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Cervical Cancer Prevention Week - What Happens At Cervical Screening?

At your cervical screening (smear test) appointment, a nurse takes a sample of cells from your cervix using a small, soft brush. They send this to a lab to test for high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) and, if you have HPV, any cervical cell changes. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, your sample is currently only tested for cervical cell changes.


Booking your cervical screening appointment


If you are registered with a GP, you will get a letter telling you it is time for your cervical screening appointment. You have to contact your GP to book an appointment. You can usually do this online, in person, or over the phone. 


If you don’t want to go to the GP, see if sexual health clinics in your local area offer cervical screening. 


You can book a cervical screening appointment at any time. If you can, it is best not to book a cervical screening when you have your period because it can make it harder to get a result. But the most important thing is booking an appointment for a date and time that works for you. 


Try not to use spermicide or oil-based lubricant (lube) for 24 hours before the test, as they can affect the results.


At your cervical screening appointment


Your whole visit to the GP surgery should not take longer than about 15 minutes, with the test itself taking a couple of minutes.


Someone having cervical screening

A nurse, sometimes called a sample taker, will invite you into a treatment room. They will explain what cervical screening is and check if you have any questions. 


The nurse will give you a private space to undress from the waist down. If you are wearing a dress or skirt, you can leave this on and just take off your underwear. 


The nurse will ask you to lie on an examination bed. You can lie:


- on your back with your legs bent up, your ankles together and your knees apart (see picture)

- on your left side with your knees bent. 

The nurse will give you a new, clean paper sheet to cover the lower half of your body. 


The nurse will let you know when the test is about to start. First, they gently put a new, clean speculum into your vagina. A speculum is usually a plastic cylinder with a round end (see picture below) – sometimes a metal speculum is used. The speculum is sometimes the part that people find uncomfortable. The nurse may use a small amount of water-based lubricant to help make it more comfortable for you. 


A speculum and brush

Once the speculum is inside your vagina, the nurse will gently open it so they can see your cervix.  


Then the nurse will use a small, soft brush to quickly take a sample of cells from your cervix. This may feel a bit strange, but should not be painful.


The nurse will put your sample of cells into a small plastic container (vial) of liquid. The liquid preserves the cells so they can be sent to a lab for testing. 


And that’s it! The nurse will take the speculum out of your vagina and give you a private space to dress again. They will explain how and when you should get your results.


After your cervical screening appointment


Most people can continue their day as usual after the appointment. You may have some light bleeding (spotting) for a day after the test, so it can help to wear a sanitary pad or panty-liner.

Your cervical screening results should arrive by post within 2 weeks.



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