Cervical screening test

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is a free health test available on the NHS as part of the national cervical screening programme. It helps prevent cervical cancer by checking for a virus called high-risk HPV and cervical cell changes. It is not a test for cancer.

The practice offers cervical screening appointments during the day as well as in the evenings and weekends.  We know you have a busy life so we try and ensure the appointment time works for you.  Please call our Reception team on 02073497330 to book your appointment.

Who is invited for cervical screening?

You should be invited for cervical screening if you have a cervix. Women are usually born with a cervix. Trans men, non-binary and intersex people may also have one.

In the UK, you are automatically invited for cervical screening if you are:

  • between the ages of 25 to 64
  • registered as female with a GP surgery.

You may get your first invite up to 6 months before you turn 25.

How often will I be invited for cervical screening?

Your cervical screening result will help decide when you are next invited for cervical screening.

You may be invited:

  • every year
  • every 3 years
  • every 5 years
  • straight to colposcopy for more tests.

Cervical screening invites and coronavirus

Across the UK, cervical screening invites are being sent. If you have an invite, or had your test cancelled because of coronavirus, you are now able to book an appointment with your GP.

What are the benefits and risks of cervical screening?

You are invited for cervical screening because evidence shows that the benefits of the test outweigh any risks. Along with the HPV vaccine, cervical screening is the best way to protect against cervical cancer.

Around 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year, and around 690 women die from the disease, which is 2 deaths every day. It is estimated that if everyone attended screening regularly, 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented.

Benefits of cervical screening

  • Cervical screening aims to identify whether you are at higher risk of developing cervical cell changes or cervical cancer. This means you can get any care or treatment you need early.
  • England, Scotland and Wales now use HPV primary screening, which is even better as it is based on your individual risk. This means how frequently you are invited for cervical screening is based on your last result and within a timeframe that is safe for you.

Possible risks of cervical screening

In a few cases, cervical screening will give an incorrect result. This means it may say someone does not have HPV or cell changes when they do (a false negative). Going for cervical screening when invited can help reduce this risk, as it is likely HPV or cell changes that were missed would be picked up by the next test. It also means a result may say someone does have HPV or cell changes when they don’t (a false positive), which could mean they are invited for tests or treatment they don’t need.

  • Sometimes cell changes go back to normal without needing treatment. At the moment, we can’t tell which cell changes will go back to normal, so treating means we can be sure we are preventing them from developing into cervical cancer. This means some people may have unnecessary treatment, which is called over diagnosis or overtreatment. Using HPV primary screening should help prevent this.

It is hard to know exactly how many people are affected by these risks. But we do know, for those aged 25 to 64, the benefits of cervical screening outweigh the risks and most results will be clear.

What happens at cervical screening?

At your cervical screening (smear test) appointment our nurse takes a sample of cells from your cervix using a small, soft brush. The test only takes a few minutes.

Our cervical screening tips

Everyone has a different experience of cervical screening. If you are looking for ways to make cervical screening (a smear test) better for you, there are lots of things you can try.

The tips on this page are for everyone, although you may feel some are not right for you.

Talk to your nurse or doctor

If it is your first cervical screening, you feel embarrassed or worried, you have had a bad experience before, or you have experienced anything that makes the test hard for you, telling the person doing the test means they can try to give you the right support. If you don’t feel comfortable saying something, try writing it down.

Ask for the first appointment of the day

If you feel uncomfortable in waiting rooms, you may want to ask to book the first appointment of the day. This can mean it is quieter and there is less time for you to wait.

Ask to book a longer or double appointment

Having more time before, during or after cervical screening can help people take in information about the test and process everything that happens.

Wear a skirt or dress

If you feel comfortable wearing a skirt or dress, it may help you feel more covered. You can keep it on during the test and only take off your underwear.

You do get a paper sheet to cover yourself. If you would like to, you can also ask if you can bring a spare shawl or blanket too.

Ask for a smaller speculum

Speculums come in different sizes. If you find the standard size too uncomfortable, you can ask to try another size.

Lie in a different position

Lying on your back may feel uncomfortable for lots of reasons. You can ask to lie on your left hand side with your knees bent (left lateral position).

Use post-menopausal prescriptions

If you have gone through or are going through the menopause, let your doctor or nurse know. After menopause, the opening of the vagina and vaginal walls become less able to stretch, which can make the test more uncomfortable. You can ask your nurse to give (prescribe) you a vaginal oestrogen cream or pessary, which may help.

Visit a specialist cervical screening clinic

Some people prefer to go for cervical screening in a clinic that meets their needs.

If you have experienced sexual violence, the charity My Body Back has clinics in London. My Body Back clinics are now open, so please contact them to book your appointment.

If you are a trans man and/or non-binary person with a cervix, you may feel uneasy about cervical screening, as well as other feelings that make the test difficult. There are a number of specialist clinics in the UK including 56 Dean Street:

For further help

We know that cervical screening isn’t easy for everyone. If you are worried about the test or know you find it hard, please visit Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website: https://www.jostrust.org.uk/information/cervical-screening

or by talking things through on 0808 802 8000.

NHS Choices for advice and information