All women aged 25 to 64 in Scotland are invited for cervical screening. Women aged 25 to 49 are invited every three years and women aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years. The test can pick up changes to the cells in the cervix which if left untreated could develop into cervical cancer. Cervical screening prevents 8 out of 10 cervical cancers from developing.

In 2016 the age range and frequency of cervical screening changed to 3-yearly from age 25 and 5-yearly from age 50 to 64. Professional question and answer guidance details the service changes and provides useful information to support making these changes. It will help practitioners to advise women who may be affected by the changes at their next cervical screening. 

Health professionals use the Scottish Cervical Call-Recall System (SCCRS) (external website) to support the cervical screening programme.

  • Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 25 to 35 years of age in Scotland.
  • Around six women in Scotland are diagnosed with cervical cancer every week.
  • Cervical screening is the best protection against cervical cancer and saves around 5,000 lives every year in the UK.
  • Eligible women are sent an invitation letter to their home (with an information leaflet) and asked to make an appointment at their local GP or clinic.
  • The most up-to-date figures on annual uptake show that 73% of eligible women were screened.
  • Uptake for women aged 25 to 64 in the least deprived areas was 78% compared with 67% in the most deprived areas.

Information Services Division’s Cervical Screening Programme page (external website) has more information on cervical screening.

Cervical screening and health inequalities

A woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer increases if they are or ever have been sexually active, of if they smoke. The risk of cervical cancer increases when a person smokes because tobacco smoke affects the cells in the cervix. Evidence shows lower participation in cervical screening among women in the following groups:

  • 25 to 34 year olds
  • women living in areas of high deprivation
  • women with a learning or physical disability
  • black or minority ethnic (BME) women
  • lesbian and bisexual women
  • those eligible within the transgender community.

We have produced a toolkit to help GPs, practice nurses and practice staff to optimise uptake, reduce barriers and ensure women are making an informed choice about cervical screening.

The Scottish Government’s 2016 Scottish Cancer Strategy (PDF, 1.71 MB)(external website) 'Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action' sets out a clear commitment to reduce inequalities in cancer screening.

Local and national action

The Scottish Government launched the Detect Cancer Early programme (external website) in 2012. This aims to improve survival for people with cancer by diagnosing and treating the disease at an early stage. The 'Get Checked Early' Scottish Government website has information for the public, including cervical cancer and screening information (external website).

We work to ensure that women are fully informed about cervical screening and what to expect at their appointment. With every cervical screening appointment letter an information leaflet is sent to enable women to make an informed choice about whether to attend their screening appointment. Leaflets are available in alternative languages and in an easy read format. 

A Smear Test Could Save Your Life provides further information on the screening programme for all those eligible as well as answering frequently asked questions about the test and cervical cancer. 

Your Smear Test Results provides information about the results of your smear test, how they will be monitored and any treatment you may need.

Your Smear Test After Treatment provides information about what will happen after your cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) treatment.

A cervical screening poster encouraging women to take up their smear test invitation is also available. 

NHS inform hosts further cervical screening information for the public. This includes a short film explaining the screening process and information available in British Sign Language (BSL).