Cervical screening tests will now also screen for human papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer.
From Monday, 16 March, women going for cervical screening - a smear test - will receive a more sensitive test which will screen for HPV to ensure cell changes are identified and treated earlier.
The new test is more effective at identifying women 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 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 is important women still attend their screening appointment when invited. It is normal to feel anxious, but going for your test is the best way of preventing cervical cancer.
“Women found to have HPV will be closely monitored and treated if required, meaning HPV is very unlikely to develop into cervical cancer.”
Kenneth Gibson MSP added:
“Women vaccinated for HPV should still go for screening 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.”
Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust:
“Cervical screening can stop cancer before it starts and testing for HPV means we can identify women at risk much faster.
“It’s important that women understand the changes to the programme, such as moving to testing every five years and feel comfortable with their results.
“Many more women will now be told they have HPV and we must tackle the fear and confusion that exists around this really common virus.”
Four out of five people in Scotland will have HPV 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 including penetrative sex and 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 it from a previous partner and transmit it to their current partner.
Lesbians 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.