Harms or risks such as pain, bleeding, and infection may result from additional examinations required to clarify abnormal screening test results, and from treating the lesions detected through screening. About 1 out of 5 or 6 women who received additional examinations without treatment reported pain or bleeding or discharge within 6 weeks. Treatment may also cause anxiety, and in rare circumstances also premature childbirth with low birth weight. Not all the precancerous lesions that are found during screening would have developed to cancer if left untreated, but as it is not possible to predict which lesions would heal spontaneously and which would progress to cancer, it is preferable to treat all such lesions.

You can minimize your risk of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of precancerous lesions by only participating in testing in an organized screening programme, i.e. when you receive an invitation from the programme. You are advised not to get screened for cervical cancer before age 25 years, but if you notice any symptoms that worry you, such as unusual vaginal bleeding at any age, you should consult your doctor.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) test is not recommended to be used for cervical cancer screening outside an organized programme because the infection often goes away without treatment, particularly in women younger than 30–35 years. That is why using this test in younger women is not recommended.