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Cervical screening

Published on 31 July 2023

Scottish Cervical Screening Programme

This page provides more information on how the cervical screening programme is managed and run.

If you would like more information on what screening means for you as a participant, visit the NHS Inform page.

NSD nationally coordinates the Scottish Cervical Screening Programme and work with NHS Boards to commission the laboratory service.

The cervical screening test (smear test) checks cells from the cervix – neck of the womb – for human papilloma virus (HPV), HPV is the main cause causes of cervical cancer. Most changes in the cells of the cervix are caused by HPV. HPV is very common. Four out of five people in Scotland will have HPV at some point in their lives. As there are usually no symptoms, many people have it for months or years without knowing it. Your body can clear most HPV infections by itself, but about one in 10 infections are harder to get rid of. If HPV is found, we'll then look at the same sample for cell changes. Monitoring or treating these cells is then possible. Without treatment, these changes can sometimes develop into cervical cancer in around 10 to 15 years’ time. Cervical screening has proven to be effective in reducing the incidence and mortality (death) of cervical cancer.

Every year, cervical screening saves 5,000 lives in the UK. It also prevents eight out of 10 cervical cancers from developing.

Where does the cervical screening service take place?

We provide national coordination for the Scottish Cervical Screening Programme. Eligible Participants get invites for their cervical screening in the post, with a supporting leaflet. Most participants have the cervical screening test during an appointment at their GP surgery.

Who gets the cervical screening and how does it work?

Cervical screening for eligible individuals is offered:

  • every five years for those between 25 and 64 years of age Anyone on non-routine screening – where screening results have shown changes that require further investigation/follow-up – will get an invite up to 70 years of age. Eligible individuals include anyone with a cervix:
  • women
  • trans men and/or non-binary people

The test takes a small sample of cells from the cervix (neck of the womb). The cells are then sent to a laboratory, where they are checked for human papilloma virus (HPV). If HPV is found, the same cells will then be checked for any changes under a microscope. The pathway and subsequent follow-up will differ according to the test results.

Cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN) is the name for changes found in the cells of the cervix. Women in Scotland who’ve had treatment for CIN will be tested again for HPV as most changes in the cells of the cervix are caused by this virus. This normally takes place six months after treatment. Women who have a test that shows normal cervical cells and no HPV six months after treatment for CIN will be placed on non-routine three-yearly screening.

Further information for participants:

Find extra information on the importance of the test on NHS Inform.

This includes details around:

  • what happens at the appointment
  • information on the link between cervical cancer and HPV
  • answers to some commonly asked questions

If you don't already have a GP, the NHS Inform website will also tell you how to register with a surgery.

The national cervical screening leaflet is available on the Health Scotland website. You can access this in an easy read version or in other languages.

Further information for health professionals

Find the latest screening standards on the Healthcare Improvement Scotland website.

For programme statistical information and trend data, visit the Public Health Scotland website.

NSD contact

NSD Screening

Please note that NSD does not directly provide medical services and we won't be able to answer queries about your own care or appointments. If you would like to discuss any aspects of your care, please contact your primary healthcare provider. This might be your GP, Consultant, Nurse or other healthcare professional. They will be best placed to give you the right advice. Please do not send any patient identifiable information, such as Date of Birth, CHI number or address to the above email address.