What is a Cervical Screening/ Smear Test?

A cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina.

Detecting and removing abnormal cervical cells can prevent cervical cancer.

Cervical screening is not a test for cancer; it is a test to check the health of the cells of the cervix. Most women's test results show that everything is normal, but for around 1 in 20 women the test will show some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

When is Cervical Screening offered?

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme in England offers free tests to all women aged between 25 and 64 who are registered with their GP.

This includes women who have had the HPV vaccination, as the vaccine does not guarantee complete protection against cervical cancer.

Women should normally be invited for cervical screening at the following times:

  • by the age of 25 you will receive your first invitation for screening
  • when you are 25 to 49 years old you are invited for screening every three years
  • when you are 50 to 64 years old you are invited for screening every five years
  • when you are aged 65 or over you are only screened if you have not been screened since you were 50 or if you have had recent abnormal test results

How is the test obtained?

The test usually takes around five minutes to carry out. You will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on a couch, although you can usually remain fully dressed if you are wearing a loose skirt.

The nurse will gently put an instrument, called a speculum, into your vagina. This holds the walls of the vagina open so that the cervix can be seen. A small soft brush will be used to gently collect some cells from the surface of your cervix.

Some women find the procedure a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing, but for most women it is not painful. If you find the test painful, tell the nurse because they may be able to reduce your discomfort. Try to relax as much as possible because being tense makes the test more difficult to carry out. Taking slow, deep breaths will help.

I've been asked to have a cervical smear test, what should i do?

You will receive a letter through the post asking you to make an appointment for a cervical screening test. You can book this through reception; screening is carried out by the practice nurse. 

If possible, try to book an appointment during the middle of your menstrual cycle (usually 14 days from the start of your last period), as this can help ensure a better sample of cells is taken.

If you use a spermicide, a barrier method of contraception or a lubricant jelly, you should not use these for 24 hours before the test as the chemicals they contain may affect the test.

How do i find out my results?

The results of your test will be sent to you in the post, the Cervical Screening Programme aims to notify people of their results within 14 days, with a copy sent to your GP.