Cervical screening programme
Cervical screening is not a test for diagnosing cervical cancer. It is a test to check the health of the cervix (neck of the womb) and reduces the risk of developing cancer.
For many women the test results show that everything is fine.
For about 1 in 20 women, the test will show changes in the cells of the cervix. Most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer.
The test may not pick up cell changes in every single case; however, it is the most effective test available to give an indication of your risk of developing cervical cancer.
Screening and cervical cancer
Cervical screening cannot prevent cancer. However, it is the best way to detect changes to the cervix early. Many women who develop cervical cancer have not been screened regularly.
Reliability of cervical screening
Early detection and treatment can prevent around 75% of cancers developing but, like other screening tests, it is not perfect.
Screening may not always detect early cell changes that may lead to cancer.
- Sometimes abnormal cells do not look much different from normal cells
- There may be very few abnormal cells in the sample
- The person looking at the sample may miss the abnormality (this happens occasionally, no matter how experienced the sample reader is).
Women who should have a test
All women between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible for a free cervical screening test every 3 to 5 years.
After your first cervical screen, you will receive invitations every 3 years between the ages of 25 and 49. You will then be invited every 5 years between the ages of 50 and 64.
Cervical cancer is more common if you:
- first had sex at an early age
- have had several sexual partners or have had a sexual partner who has had several other partners
- take immunosuppressant drugs (for example, after an organ transplant)
If you have passed the menopause, you still need to be tested to check that your cervix is healthy.
Ask your doctor for advice if you:
- have had a hysterectomy
- are over 65
- have never had sex with a man
- you are not sure whether you still need to be tested
A doctor or nurse will carry out your test. You can make an appointment at your own surgery, or at the Staywell Clinic. Most surgeries have women doctors or nurses. If you prefer a female member of staff, or would like someone with you, please ask when you make your appointment.
The Staywell Clinic is only staffed by female doctors, nurses and receptionists.
During the test
You will be asked to undress from the waist down. If you wear a full skirt you will not have to remove it. The doctor or nurse will ask you to lie down on a couch. They will then gently put a small instrument (called a speculum) into your vagina to hold it open.
Then they will wipe a small brush-like device over the cervix to pick up some cells.
They will transfer these cells into a small container of liquid and send it away for the cells to be examined under a microscope.
Some women experience a little discomfort - try to relax by taking slow, deep breaths as it may hurt more if you are tense. If it is painful tell the doctor or nurse straight away as they may be able to reduce your discomfort. Some women are a little embarrassed by the process, but it only takes a minute.
You cannot be tested during your period, so make sure you get an appointment before or after your period is due. The best time is in the middle of your cycle.
Spermicides, barrier methods of contraception or lubricant jelly contain chemicals that may affect the test if used up to 24 hours before the test.
It takes a few weeks for us to process your result. You will normally be sent a letter with your result within 4 weeks. If you have heard nothing after 4 weeks please telephone the Cervical Screening Office, contact details below.
If you do not want a result letter to go to your home address please tell the person taking your test so they can make a note on your record.
You will then be asked to telephone your own doctor's surgery to receive the result.
The result letter
Most women will receive a letter advising that the test was normal. A normal result means the test showed you are at low risk of developing cervical cancer and you will be invited again in 3 to 5 years. Contact your doctor if you experience any unusual bleeding or any symptoms that concern you before your next test is due – do not wait for an invitation letter.
If your test shows an abnormal result, this rarely means you have cancer. Cervical screening is designed to pick up minor changes before any problems develop.
About 1 in 20 women have an abnormal cervical screening result, so it is not particularly unusual.
If your screening result shows mild abnormalities (called borderline or low grade dyskaryosis) your sample will be tested for human papilloma virus (HPV). If this is positive you will be invited to attend the Colposcopy Clinic. If it is negative you will return to 3- or 5-yearly screening depending on your age.
If you have any other abnormal changes in your test you will be invited to attend the Colposcopy Clinic without HPV testing. The Clinic operates a direct referral procedure. You should receive an appointment automatically within 2 weeks of receiving your result letter. Treatment, if needed, is simple and is performed in the Outpatients Clinic.
Sometimes the sample cannot be examined – this is called an inadequate test. The most common reason for this is when there are not enough cervical cells in the sample to give an accurate assessment. You will be asked to have a further cervical screening test.
Reducing the risk of developing cervical cancer
Some factors that may reduce your risk of developing abnormal cells include:
- Stopping smoking
- Using barrier methods of contraception
- Having regular cervical screening.
Signs to look out for
If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, please see your doctor:
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding during or after sex
- Bleeding after the menopause
- Any unpleasant vaginal discharge
- Discomfort or pain during sex.
Where to go for a test
Your own doctor's surgery: The test can be done by a doctor or nurse.
Please inform your GP Practice if you change your address.
Women's and children's outpatients area
+44 1624 642638
Call for an appointment on Mondays or Thursdays between 8.30am and 2pm. Clinic appointments are available on Monday and Thursday evenings at 6.15pm, 6.40pm or 7pm. The Clinic is funded by the Isle of Man Anti-Cancer Association. All Clinics are by appointment only.
If you have any queries about the Cervical Screening Programme please contact us at:
Isle of Man
+44 1624 642640