Cervical screening is a method of preventing cervical cancer by detecting abnormal cells in the cervix (lower part of the womb).
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer, but it is a test to check the health of the cervix. Most women's test results show that everything is normal. But for one in 20 women, the test will show some changes in the cells of the cervix.
Most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer and the cells will go back to normal on their own. In some cases, the abnormal cells need to be treated to prevent them becoming a problem later.
Since September 2008 there has been a national programme to vaccinate girls aged 12-13 against human papilloma virus (HPV). There is also a three-year catch up campaign that will offer the HPV vaccine (also known as the cervical cancer jab) to 13-18 year old girls.
The programme is delivered largely through secondary schools, and consists of three injections that are given over a six-month period. In the UK, more than 1.4 million doses have been given since the vaccination programme started.
Human papilloma virus (HPV)
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name of a family of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes that line your body, such as those in your cervix, anus, mouth and throat. These membranes are called the mucosa.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV viruses, with about 40 types affecting the genital area. These are classed as high risk and low risk.
What HPV infection can do
Infection with some types of HPV can cause abnormal tissue growth and other changes to cells, which can lead to cervical cancer. Infection with other forms of HPV can also cause genital warts.
Other types of HPV infection can cause minor problems, such as common skin warts and verrucas.
Around 30 types of HPV are transmitted through sexual contact, including those that can cause cervical cancer and genital warts. Genital warts are the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK.
HPV infection is also linked to vaginal cancer and vulval cancer, although both are rare conditions.