Cervical screening and patient management protocols

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Independent sector cervical screening

All eligible women (aged from 25-64) will automatically receive their invitation letter from the Cervical Screening Administration Service to attend for screening. Women who have cervical samples taken outside the NHS cervical screening programme may contact their GP to say that they have had cervical screening in the private sector. The GP/Practice should then advise the woman that her private cervical screening test results are not routinely captured in the NHS screening programme and that she is eligible for her routine test and should attend for this.

However, please be aware that there should be a 3-month interval between any private sample and one taken as part of the NHSCSP to ensure an adequate sample is taken.

Inappropriate and ‘out of programme’ samples

Recall intervals for cervical screening

  • Routine 3 yearly recall between the ages of 24 years, 6 months and 49 years inclusive (the first invitation letter is sent at 24 years and 6 months).
  • Routine 5 yearly recall between the ages of 50 and 64 years inclusive
  • Cease cervical screening at age 65 years, only screen those who:

i) Have never had a screening test and now request one

ii) Did not attend for their last test when aged 60 or over and now wish to have that final test

iii) If the last 3 tests included an abnormal result and/or she is on follow-up for treatment of CIN/CGIN/invasive cancer

iv) Over 65 and had fewer than 3 consecutive negative tests

Abnormal looking cervix

If there is a clinical suspicion of cervical disease, a cervical screening test i.e. an HPV test is not the appropriate test to investigate the symptoms. The woman should be referred urgently for further investigation under the two-week-wait rule. Women with an abnormal looking cervix should be referred for gynaecological examination and onward referral to colposcopy if cancer is suspected.

Young women with abnormal bleeding

Women below the screening age range who present with symptoms such as postcoital bleeding or intermenstrual bleeding should be managed as per the latest recommendations in Clinical Practice Guidance for the Assessment of Young Women aged 20-24 with Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding. Cervical screening does not form part of this management pathway. Note, this includes women under the age of 20 years.

Other inappropriate tests

  • On taking or starting to take an oral contraceptive
  • On insertion of an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD)
  • On taking or starting to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • In association with pregnancy – either antenatally or postnatally or after termination unless a previous screening test was abnormal
  • In women with genital warts
  • In women with a vaginal discharge
  • In women with pelvic infection
  • In women who have had multiple sexual partners
  • In women who are heavy cigarette smokers

Symptomatic women

Women with symptoms of cancer should be referred for gynaecological examination in the first instance. Cervical screening is not an appropriate investigation for:

  • Postcoital bleeding
  • Intermenstrual bleeding
  • Postmenopausal bleeding
  • Persistent vaginal discharge

Follow-up after total hysterectomy

Women who need vaginal vault sampling following surgery are not included in the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. Vault samples should be taken in a hospital setting only and therefore women requiring this should be referred to colposcopy or remain at colposcopy until all necessary vault samples have been taken.

The laboratory will reject vault samples taken in primary care.

The clinical indications for taking a vault sample are given in Cervical screening: Programme and colposcopy management, February 2020


(Last reviewed August 2021)