Breast & Cervical Screening

Breast Screening

Breast screening looks for breast cancer before symptoms show. This involves x-rays (mammograms) of the breast. At least two x-rays of each breast are taken.

Breast cancer can affect any woman but is more common in women aged over 50. The risk of developing breast cancer is realted to age - the older you are the higher the risk. It affects 1 in 9 women in Wales at some time in their lives. If we find breast cancer at an early stage, treatment has the greatest chance of being successful. The best way of screening for breast cancer is having regular mammograms, as you may not be able to see or feel early changes.

Breast screening is for women between 50 - 70 years of age. And are automatically called for screening every 3 years. All eligible women should receive their first invitation before their 53rd birthday. Women over 70 are screened on request at intervals of no less than 3 years.

Most women will have normal results. About 1 in 20 women that are screened are called back for more tests. Most of these women will not have cancer.

Contact: South East Wales Breast Screening Centre, 18 Cathedral Road, Cardiff. CF11 9LJ. Tel 029 2039 7222

Cervical Screening

Cervical Screening Wales (CSW) invites women aged between 20 and 64 who live in Wales for a test every 3 years. If you have had a hysterectomy or are over 65, you may not need to have the test and should ask your doctor or nurse for advice. All women who live in Wales receive their test results by post. We aim to provide you with your result within 4 to 6 weeks of the test being taken, but sometimes it takes a little longer. Regular cervical screening can prevent up to 90% of cancers developing, but like other screening tests it is not perfect. It does not always detect early cell changes that may lead to cancer.                                                                                   

If you have any unusual symptoms such as bleeding after sex or between periods, you should see your doctor, even if you have had a recent negative test.

What is cervical screening? Cervical screening is a test to check the health of the cervix, which is the lower part of the womb (often called the neck of the womb). The test is usually called a 'cervical smear'.  Cervical screening is not a test for diagnosing cervical cancer, but aims to prevent cancer from developing. For most women, the test results do not show any abnormalities. However, for 1 in 10 women, the test result shows changes in the cells. These changes can be caused by many things. Most of these changes will not lead to cancer, but some may develop into cancer if they are not treated. Cervical screening saves over 1000 lives in the UK each year. However about 1500 women still die from cervical cancer in the UK each year.

The aim of the cervical screening programme is to prevent cancer. Regular screening every three years is the best way to detect changes to the cervix early and prevent them developing into cancer. Cervical cancer is more common if you:

§         First had sex at an early age.

§         Smoke.

§         Do not use condoms.

§         Have had several sexual partners (or have had a sexual partner who has had several other partners).

§         Take immunosuppressant drugs (for example after an organ transplant).

If any of the above points apply to you, it is particularly important for you to have the test regularly, but there is no need for you to be tested more than once every three years. However, if you are HIV-positive, you are advised to have smear tests every year. Early detection and treatment can prevent cancer developing in over 80% of cases.

What happens during the test - The smear taker will ask you to lie down on a couch. They will gently put a small instrument, called a speculum, into your vagina to hold it open. They will wipe a sampler over the cervix to pick up a few of the cells. They will preserve the cells and send them away to be examined under a microscope. The test takes just a few minutes. You might feel some discomfort or pain - try to relax by taking slow, deep breaths as it may hurt more if you are tense. If it is painful, tell the doctor or nurse straight away, as they may be able to help.If you use a spermicide, a barrier method of contraception or a lubricant jelly, you should not use these for 24 hours before the test as they contain certain chemicals that might affect the test.

What does it mean if I am called back? - It might simply mean that your sample did not show up clearly and we need to take another test. This is called an ‘unsatisfactory result’, and does not mean that there is any abnormality in the sample. About 1 in 10 tests are unsatisfactory because there may not have been enough cervical cells in the sample to give an accurate assessment. You may have an infection that needs to be treated before a good quality sample can be made. The cervical cells in your sample may have been hidden by blood or mucus. Your sample may not have been properly prepared; or your sample may have been damaged in transit. On the other hand, your result could identify some small changes in the cells in the cervix. Abnormal cells in your sample might be missed because sometimes they do not look much different from normal cells. There may be very few abnormal cells in the sample. The person reading your sample may miss the abnormality (this happens occasionally, no matter how experienced the reader is) If abnormal changes (known as dyskaryosis) are detected, you will have what is called an 'abnormal result'. This is unlikely to be cancer. However, sometimes very rarely cancer will be found when an abnormal result is investigated further. You may be asked to come back for more cervical screening tests, because the abnormal cells may return to normal by themselves. However, you may be asked to go to hospital for a further examination, which is called colposcopy. Treatment, if it is needed, is a minor procedure, and is normally done in an out patient clinic, which means you do not have to stay overnight.

Regular cervical screening reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer.


Due to cervical screening, cervical cancer is now an uncommon disease in this country.


Cervical cancer rates have halved since the 1980s, largely due to most women having regular cervical screening.


Cervical screening by the NHS saves over 1000 lives each year.


Some women find having the test an unpleasant experience.


In 1 in 40 tests, the cells cannot be seen properly under the microscope and the test must be taken again.


The test can pick up minor abnormalities in cervical cells which would have cleared up on their own and women would never have known about them if they had not been for screening. It is not yet clear which minor abnormalities would develop into cancer and which would not. Many worry when an abnormality is found.


Cervical screening does not pick up every abnormality of the cervix.

Regular cervical screening can prevent about 80-90% of cervical cancers developing, but it does not prevent every case. It is important therefore that you report any unusual symptoms to your GP.



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