Cervical cancer screening is actually not a test for cancer. It is a method of preventing cancer by detecting and treating early abnormalities that, if left untreated, could lead to cancer in a woman’s cervix. The risk of invasive cervical cancer is reduced by up to 90% for women who regularly participate in organized programmes using either of the two recommended screening tests. In other words, 9 out of 10 invasive cancers can be prevented by screening. If you undergo screening, your risk of dying from cervical cancer will be greatly reduced, but like other screening methods, cervical cancer screening may miss some abnormalities that may still lead to cancer.

There are two different tests that are recommended for cervical cancer screening. The oldest and most widely used test, cytology or Pap (Papanicolaou) test, involves taking a sample of cells from the surface of the cervix and sending them to a laboratory for examination under a microscope. A newer test, which is used in some screening programmes, checks for infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), because almost all cases of cervical cancer result from chronic infection with HPV. Use of both tests together is not recommended, unless one test (Pap test or HPV test) is positive. In this case the other test may be used to check the result before a gynaecological examination.