Cervical screening tests women for changes in the cells of the cervix (neck of the womb) using a smear test.
Changes are common and cervical screening by smear tests can pick up early cell changes so they can be monitored or treated. The earlier abnormal cell changes are found, the easier they are to treat.
Early detection and treatment of changes in the cells of the cervix can prevent cervical cancer.
Screening is internationally accepted as a preventative health measure. While it is recognised that no screening test is 100 per cent accurate, cervical screening is the most effective method of reducing a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer.
International best practice recommends that a population based cervical screening programme should target women aged from 25 or 30 years to 60 or 65 years. Population based screening is where a test is offered to all individuals in a target group, usually defined by age, as part of an organised programme.
Based on evidence to date, there is no additional public health benefit in starting screening below the age of 25. In women under the age of 25, minor changes in the cells of the cervix are common but invasive cancer is extremely rare. Population based screening in women under the age of 25 may lead to many women receiving unnecessary treatment for lesions that would never have developed into invasive cancer.