What is cervical screening
Cervical screening (a smear test) checks the health of your cervix. The cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina.
It is not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer.
All women and people with a cervix aged 25 – 64 years should be invited by letter.
During the screening appointment, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix.
The sample is checked for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. These are called “high risk” types of HPV.
If these types of HPV are not found, you do not need any further tests.
If these types of HPV are found, the sample is then checked for any changes in the cells of your cervix. These can then be treated before they get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.
The nurse or doctor will tell you when you can expect to receive your results letter.
Important – Try not to delay or put off cervical screening. It’s one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.
What is HPV
HPV is the name for a very common group of viruses.
Most people will get some type of HPV during their lives. It’s very common and nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
You can get HPV from any kind of skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, not just from penetrative sex.
- Vaginal, oral or anal sex
- Any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
- Sharing sex toys
Some types of HPV (called “high risk” types) can cause cervical cancer. In most cases, your body will get rid of the HPV without it causing any problems, but sometimes HPV can stay in your body for a long time.
If high risk types of HPV stay in your body, they can cause changes to the cells in your cervix. These changes may become cervical cancer if not treated.
If you do not have a high risk type of HPV it is very unlikely you will get cervical cancer, even if you have had abnormal cell changes in your cervix before.
Important – Finding high risk HPV early means you can be monitored for abnormal cell changes.
Abnormal changes can be treated so they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.
Who’s at risk of cervical cancer
If you have a cervix and have had any kind of sexual contact with a man or woman, you could get cervical cancer. This is because nearly all cervical cancers are caused by infection with high risk types of HPV.
You’re still at risk of cervical cancer if:
- You have had the HPV vaccine – it does not protect you from all types of HPV, so you are still at risk of cervical cancer
- You have only had one sexual partner – you can get HPV the first time you are sexually active
- You have had the same sexual partner, or not had sex for a long time – you can have HPV for a long time without knowing it
- You’re a lesbian or bisexual – you are at risk if you have had any sexual contact
- You’re a trans man with a cervix – read about if trans men should have cervical screening
- You have had a partial hysterectomy that did not remove all of your cervix
If you have never had any kind of sexual contact with a man or woman, you may decide not to go for cervical screening when you are invited. You can however, still have a test if you would like one.
If you’re not sure whether to have cervical screening, talk to your GP or nurse.
Cervical screening is a choice
It is entirely your choice if you want to go for cervical screening. But cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect you from cervical cancer.
Risks of cervical screening
You may have some light bleeding or spotting after cervical screening. This should stop within a few hours.
If abnormal cells are found and you need treatment, there are some risks, such as:
- Treating cells that may have gone back to normal on their own
- Bleeding or an infection
- You may be more likely to have a baby early if you get pregnant in the future – although this is rare
For more information to help you decide, please read the NHS cervical screening leaflet
How to opt out
If you do not want to be invited for screening, please contact our admin team and ask to be taken off of the cervical screening list.
You can ask to be put back on the list at any time if you change your mind.
When you’ll be invited
|When you’re invited
|Up to 6 months before you turn 25
|25 – 49
|Every 3 years
|50 – 64
|Every 5 years
|65 or older
|Only if 1 of your last 3 tests was abnormal
You can book an appointment as soon as you receive your letter.
If you missed your last cervical screening, you do not need to wait for a letter to book an appointment.
When cervical screening is not recommended
If you’re under 25
You will not be invited for cervical screening until you are 25 because:
- Cervical cancer is very rare in people under 25
- It might lead to having treatment you do not need – abnormal cell changes often go back to normal in younger women
If you’re 65 or older
You’ll usually stop being invited for screening once you turn 65. This is because it’s very unlikely that you’ll get cervical cancer.
You’ll only be invited again if 1 of your last 3 tests was abnormal.
If you’re 65 or older and have never been for cervical screening, or have not had cervical screening since the age of 50, you can ask your GP for a test.
If you have had a total hysterectomy
You will not need to go for cervical screening if you have had a total hysterectomy to remove all of your womb and cervix.
You should not receive any more screening invitation letters.
Please make an appointment to speak to the nurse if:
You are worried about symptoms of cervical cancer such as:
- Bleeding between periods, during or after sex, or after you have been through the menopause
- Unusual vaginal discharge
Do not wait for your next cervical screening appointment.
When to book cervical screening
Try to book your appointment as soon as you receive your invitation letter. If you missed your last cervical screening, you do not need to wait for a letter.
It’s best to book an appointment for a time when:
- You’re not having a period – also try to avoid the 2 days before or after you bleed (if you do not have periods, you can book any time)
- You have finished treatment if you have unusual vaginal discharge or a pelvic infection.
Read more about cervical screening during pregnancy if:
- You’re pregnant now
- You have recently given birth
- You’re planning a pregnancy
- You have recently had a miscarriage or abortion
Important – You should avoid using any vaginal medicines, lubricants or creams in the 2 days before you have your test as they can affect the results.
Things to ask when you book
Please let us know if you have any worries about having cervical screening.
- Let us know if you would like someone else to be in the room with you ( a chaperone) – this could be someone you know, another nurse or a trained member of staff.
- Ask for a longer appointment if you think you might need more time – we can offer a double appointment if required.
- Let us know if you are finding the test more difficult after going through the menopause – we can prescribe a vaginal oestrogen cream or pessary before the test
- Ask for a smaller speculum (a smooth, tube-shaped tool that’s put into your vagina so the nurse can see your cervix)
- Don’t be embarrassed about talking to the nurse on the day – they are fully trained to make you feel more comfortable and provide any support you may need throughout the appointment.
How to book
Your letter will tell you where you can go for cervical screening and how to book.
If you do not have a letter but think you are due for cervical screening or you have lost your letter, please call the surgery on 01707 329292.
All of the cervical screening is done at the surgery by a female nurse.
To book an appointment, please call the appointment line on 01707 329292.
If you missed an appointment
If you were invited for cervical screening but missed your appointment or did not book an appointment at the time, please call us to book a new appointment, even if you were invited weeks or months ago.
What happens at your appointment
The test itself should take less than 5 minutes. The whole appointment should only take approximately 10 minutes.
Before starting, the nurse will explain what will happen during the test and answer any questions you may have.
How cervical screening is done
- You’ll need to undress behind a screen, from the waist down. You’ll be given a sheet to put over you.
- The nurse will ask you to lie back on a bed, usually with your legs bent, feet together and knees apart. Sometimes you may need to change position during the test.
- The nurse will gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina. A small amount of lubricant may be used.
- The nurse will then open the speculum so she can see your cervix.
- Using a soft brush, she will take a small sample of cells from your cervix.
- The nurse will close and remove the speculum and leave you to get dressed.
Important – You’re in control of the screening and can ask the nurse to stop at any time.
Things you can try to make the test easier
If you are worried about cervical screening, there are things you can try to that make the test easier for you:
- Wear something you can leave on during the test, like a skirt or long jumper
- Bring someone with you for support
- Try breathing exercises to help you relax – you can ask the nurse about these
- Ask the nurse to use a smaller speculum
- Ask the nurse about lying in a different position – such as on your side with your knees pulled up to your chest.
- Bring something to listen to or read during the test.
- Don’t feel pressured to keep going – you can ask to stop the test at any time
- Try not to be afraid or embarrassed to talk to the nurse – telling them how you feel will help them understand what support you might need.
When your results should arrive
The nurse will tell you when you can expect your results letter.
If you have waited longer than you expected, you can call us to see if we have any updates.
Try not to worry if it’s taking a long time to get your results letter. It does not mean anything is wrong and most people will have a normal result.
What your results mean
Your results letter will explain what was tested for and what your results mean.
Sometimes you’ll be asked to come back in 3 months to have the test again. This does not mean there is anything wrong, it’s because the results were unclear. This is sometimes called an inadequate result.
If human papillomavirus (HPV) is not found in your sample
Most people will not have HPV (an HPV negative result).
This means your risk of getting cervical cancer is very low. You do not need any further tests to check for abnormal cervical cells, even if you have had these in the past.
You will be invited for screening again in 3-5 years.
If HPV is found in your sample
Your results letter will explain what will happen next if HPV is found in your sample (an HPV positive result)
You may need:
- Another cervical screening test in 1 year
- A different test to look at your cervix (a colposcopy)
There are 2 different kinds of HPV positive result:
|What it means
|HPV found (HPV positive) but no abnormal cells
|You’ll be invited for screening in 1 year and again in 2 years if you still have HPV. If you still have HPV after 3 years, you may need to have a colposcopy
|HPV found (HPV positive) and abnormal cells
|You’ll be asked to have a colposcopy
Important – Having a positive HPV result does not mean your partner has had sex with someone else while you have been together.
You might have HPV even if you have not been sexually active or not had a new partner for many years.
If you need a colposcopy
A colposcopy is a simple procedure to look at your cervix.
It’s similar to having cervical screening, but it’s done in hospital.
You might need a colposcopy if your results show changes to the cells of your cervix.
Try not to worry if you have been referred for a colposcopy. Any changes to your cells will not get worse whilst you are waiting for your appointment.
Further help and support
If you would like further information and support about cervical screening, results and treatment, you can contact Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust by:
- Joining the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust forum
- Calling the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust helpline on 0808 802 8000
- Using the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust ask the expert service
Support for people with a learning disability
- Easy read guide to cervical screening (GOV.UK)
- Information and a film about cervical screening if you have a learning disability (Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust)
- Easy read guide to having a smear test (Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust)
Support for LGBT people
- Cervical screening for LGBT people (LGBT Foundation)
- Cervical screening for lesbian and bisexual women (GOV.UK)
- Cervical screening for trans and non-binary people (GOV.UK)
Support for people with vulval pain
Support after sexual violence
If you have experienced sexual violence, you may find the idea of cervical screening very difficult.
The My Body Back Project gives support after sexual violence by running My Body Back screening clinics for people who have experienced sexual violence.