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How often do cervical screenings take place across the UK? Why Wales extended screenings to 5 years explained

Cervical screenings test a small sample of cells for certain types of HPV and are offered on the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

The routine cervical screening interval in Wales has been extended from three to five years, but how often do screenings take place elsewhere in the Uk?

Here’s what you need to know.

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What are cervical screenings?

Cervical screening checks the health of your cervix, which is the opening to your womb from your vagina.

It’s not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer.

During the screening appointment, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix, which is then checked for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. These are called "high risk" types of HPV.

If these types of HPV are not found, you do not need any further tests.

If these types of HPV are found, the sample is then checked for any changes in the cells of your cervix. These can then be treated before they get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.

You will get your results by letter, usually about two weeks after your screening. It will explain what happens next.

How often do cervical screenings take place across the UK?

In England, all women and people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 should go for regular cervical screening.

The regularity of screenings depends on your age.

If you’re under 25, you will be invited for a screening up to six months before you turn 25.

If you’re between the ages of 25 to 49 you will be invited every three years, or every five years if you’re aged 50 to 64.

If you’re 65 or older you will be invited for a screening only if one of your last three tests was abnormal.

You’ll get a letter in the post inviting you to make an appointment, but if you missed your last cervical screening, you do not need to wait for a letter to book an appointment.

In Scotland, cervical screening is routinely offered to anyone with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 every five years.

However, you may be recalled more often depending on your test results.

Those on non-routine screening - which is where screening results have shown changes that need further investigation or follow up - will be invited up to 70 years of age.

Wales has now moved in line with Scotland, changing screening for women and people with a cervix aged 25-49, from every three years to every five years.

It follows a recommendation from the UK National Screening Committee and came into effect on 1 January 2022.

The extension brings the advice for this age group in Wales in line with the screening interval for those aged 50-64.

Consultant in public health for Cervical Screening Wales, Heather Lewis said: "The HPV test we now use in Wales is more effective at identifying people at higher risk of developing cell changes which can cause cervical cancer.

"The evidence shows it is therefore safe to extend the time between cervical screening tests for people who do not have HPV identified."

In Northern Ireland, women and those with a cervix aged between 25 and 49 are invited for cervical screening every three years, with women aged between 50 and 64 invited every five years.

Those registered with a GP in Northern Ireland who fall within the screening age range are automatically invited to attend for a screening test.