The current cervical screening programme in the UK invites women aged 25-49 every 3 years, and women 50-64 every 5 years. This is assuming the test is normal. If you have an abnormal test result you may be invited more often whilst the abnormality is treated.
The screening age was raised from 20 to 25 in 2003 – why was this? The reason for the change was that studies have shown than screening women aged 20-25 does more harm than good – its leads to a significant amount of young women having unnecessary treatment on their cervix but does not result in any reduction in the mortality rates from cervical cancer in this age group.
What is important to stress is that cervical screening is not a diagnostic test – it is part of a screening programme aiming to identify healthy women who are at risk of developing cervical cancer and then treat them before the cancer develops.
If you have any sort of symptoms that concern you, do not wait for your screening test letter! Whatever your age, if you develop bleeding after sex, bleeding in between periods, abnormal discharge, or pain during sex – you should speak to your doctor. A screening test is not needed, unless it is due. Instead you should be examined and other diagnostic tests (such as swabs) carried out to identify the cause of the symptoms.