Smear test to screen for HPV

Improved test to prevent cervical cancer.

Cervical screening tests will now also screen for the human papillomavirus (HPV) – the main cause of cervical cancer.

From Monday, 16 March, those going for cervical screening, also known as the smear test, will receive a more sensitive test which will screen for HPV and help ensure cell changes are identified and treated earlier.

The new test is more effective at identifying those at risk of developing cervical cancer meaning women who don’t have HPV will be invited for a cervical screening test every five years instead of every three.

Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood said:

“Introducing HPV testing as part of the main smear test will improve health outcomes for women and ultimately save more lives.

“The way the test is carried out will not change – so it’s important women still attend their cervical screening appointment when invited. It is normal to feel anxious, but going for your test is the best way of preventing cervical cancer.

“It is important that those who have been vaccinated for HPV still go for screening. This is because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer. It’s the combination of the HPV vaccination and cervical screening that should eventually wipe out cervical cancer in Scotland.

“Women who are found to have HPV will be closely monitored and treated if required, meaning HPV is extremely unlikely to develop into cervical cancer.”

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

“We are fortunate to have cervical screening as it can stop cervical cancer before it starts and testing for HPV means we can identify those at risk much faster. This will help to prevent event more diagnoses.

“It’s important that women understand the changes to the programme, such as moving to testing every five years, and that they feel comfortable with their results.

“Many more women will now be told they have the virus and we must tackle the fear and confusion that exists around this really common virus.”


Having HPV is very common. Four out of five people in Scotland will have it at some point in their lives.

It takes a long time for HPV to develop into cervical cancer, so it’s very rare for a woman who doesn’t have HPV to develop cervical cancer within five years.

HPV is spread through sexual contact. This includes penetrative sex as well as other types of sexual activity, such as skin-to-skin genital contact or using sex toys.

HPV can lie dormant for a long period of time. Therefore it’s possible for someone to contract HPV from a previous partner and transmit it to their current partner.

Lesbian women, women who have only ever had one partner, and those who are no longer sexually active can develop HPV at any point in their lives. Practicing safe sex cannot prevent HPV.


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