Improving cervical screening

Earlier detection will save women’s lives.

Scotland’s NHS is to introduce a more accurate test for cervical cancer with the potential for earlier, more effective treatment.  

Following recommendations from the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC), women between the ages of 25 and 64 who are offered a smear test that can identify changes that could develop into cervical cancer will also be checked for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) - something that has been strongly linked to the cancer.

The new test is expected to be available within the Scottish Cervical Screening Programme by 2019-20.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35 and incidence has increased 22% over the last decade. Each year in the UK, more than 3,200 women are diagnosed and over 890 lose their lives.

Health Secretary, Shona Robison:

“Cervical screening is an important health service that can reduce cases of cervical cancer and death. We must continue to invest in more accurate and accessible tests.

“I am pleased to announce that investment from our Cancer Strategy will be used to introduce this new test, which will help ensure the early signs of cervical cancer are identified and treated earlier.”

Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said:

“HPV testing as the primary cervical screening method has been shown to have a higher detection rate than the current screening programme. This provides a more reliable indicator of women who may be at greater risk of cervical cancer.

“It is positive to see the NHS in Scotland following advice from the UKNSC and changing to this more effective test which will reduce incidence of cervical cancer in Scotland and save lives. We look forward to working with the screening programme to ensure this change is made as smoothly as possible, communicated effectively to the public, and that the workforce in particular is supported to adapt to the changes.”

Cancer Research UK’s Gregor McNie said:

“It’s a huge step forward that the Scottish Government is now introducing a first line HPV test to improve cervical screening. Testing first for the human papilloma virus will help prevent more cervical cancers, as it can pick up the cancer-causing infection before any abnormalities could develop in the cells. The need for improvements to the cervical screening programme was set out in the Scottish Government’s cancer strategy published last year, so it’s good to see progress being made.”


The main risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV).

Cervical cancer can be prevented through screening. Treatment as a result of screening prevents 8 out of 10 cervical cancers from developing. Cervical screening saves around 5,000 lives in the UK every year. However, uptake of screening is on a downward trend in Scotland with latest figures showing that just under 70 per cent of eligible women attend screening, compared to 80 per cent attending 10 years ago.


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