A cervical screening test is designed to check the health of your cervix (the neck of your womb) and detect any abnormal cell changes that may develop into cancer if left untreated.
The NHS Cervical Screening Programme in England offers free tests to women aged 25 to 64. All women aged 25 to 49 are invited to have a routine cervical screening test every 3 years, and women aged 50 to 64 are invited every 5 years.
Cervical screening and pregnancy
In most cases, it's not recommended that a woman has a cervical screening test while she is, or could be, pregnant. This is because pregnancy can make the result of your test harder to interpret.
If you're planning a pregnancy, it’s a good idea to ask your GP if you are up to date with your cervical screening. This means that any tests or treatment can be arranged around the pregnancy.
If you are already pregnant and are due for a cervical screening test, the test will usually be postponed until 3 months after your baby is born. Tell your GP or clinic that you are pregnant when you are invited for your test.
However, if you have previously had an abnormal result from a cervical screening test, you may need to be screened while you are pregnant. Your GP or midwife may ask you to have a cervical screening test at your first antenatal appointment. This test will not interfere with your pregnancy.
Don't panic if you have a cervical screening test while you are pregnant and the results come back abnormal, or if a test you had just before you became pregnant shows abnormal results. This does not mean you have cancer – just that there are some abnormal cells that may need to be checked.
You may need to have a colposcopy (a closer examination of your cervix and vagina using a lighted magnifying instrument called a colposcope).
This simple examination is perfectly safe to have during pregnancy and allows your doctor to see exactly how the cells on your cervix have changed.
If you only have mild changes to the cells on your cervix, you will not need to have any treatment until around 3 months after your baby is born. After this time, you may have another colposcopy to check on the progress of your condition.
In many cases, abnormal cell changes will go back to normal without any treatment.
However, if the changes to the cells on your cervix are more pronounced, your doctor may carry out another colposcopy when you are about 6 months pregnant, to keep an eye on your condition.
If the cells on your cervix have not returned to normal after you have given birth, you may then have treatment to remove the abnormal cells. Although you may worry about delaying treatment, the abnormal cells are unlikely to change much over the course of your pregnancy.
Do not be afraid to discuss your options and any concerns you have with your GP and midwife, and make sure that you go to all of your follow-up appointments after you have had your baby.