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Home » Your Health and Services » Cervical screening programme: Frequently Asked Questions

Cervical screening programme

The NHS wants to help you stay healthy and well, by preventing serious disease where possible and by diagnosing any illness as early as possible. All women and people with a cervix - the opening to your womb from your vagina - who are aged between 25 and 64 are invited by letter to have their cervical screening every few years.

Cervical cancer screening saves lives

A cervical screening (previously known as the smear test) checks the health of your cervix. The cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina. Cervical screenings are carried out by a trained nurse or doctor.

A cervical screening is not a test for cancer, but it can help prevent cancer. During the cervical screening a small sample of cells is taken from your cervix. This sample is analysed in a lab to check for certain types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. These types of HPV are called "high risk".

Women, non-binary people and trans men who have a cervix should take part in the cervical screening. You will receive your first invitation to have your cervical screening when you turn 25. Between the ages of 25 and 49, you will be offered a cervical screening every 3 years. After you turn 50 you will be offered the screening every 5 years until you turn 64. If you are aged 65 or over, you will only be invited for a cervical screening if 1 of your last 3 tests was abnormal.

If you are a trans man who is registered as male with your GP practice, you will not receive automatic invitations. However it's very important that you still have your cervical screening. Please ask your GP practice for an appointment.

If you are aged 25-64 we would encourage you to take up your invitation to get your cervical screening. A cervical screening could save your life.

If you no longer want to be invited to have your cervical screening you can contact your GP to ask to be taken off their cervical screening list. You can do this if:

  • you no longer have a cervix, but still receive invitations to screening
  • you still have a cervix, but you do not want to be invited for screening

A cervical screening appointment generally takes about 10 minutes. The test itself will take less than 5 minutes.

  1. You'll need to undress, behind a screen, from the waist down. You'll be given a sheet to put over you.
  2. 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.
  3. They'll gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina. A small amount of lubricant may be used.
  4. The nurse will open the speculum so they can see your cervix.
  5. Using a soft brush, they'll take a small sample of cells from your cervix.
  6. The nurse will close and remove the speculum and leave you to get dressed.

You may have some spotting or light bleeding after your cervical screening test. This is very common and should go away after a few hours.

The cervical screening feels different for everyone. Many people don't experience pain during the screening, but it can feel uncomfortable or hurt. There are some things you can do to make the cervical screening easier:

  • Wear something you can leave on during the test - for example, a long jumper or a dress
  • Try some simple breathing exercises to help you relax
  • Ask the nurse or doctor to use a smaller speculum
  • Ask the nurse about lying in a different position if you think it may be helpful
  • Bring something to listen to or read during the test


The doctor or nurse who carries out your cervical cancer screening will be able to tell you when you can expect your results. Your results are usually sent to you in a letter. Your letter will explain what your results mean.

Most people who have the cervical screening will not have Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This is called an HPV negative result. If you have an HPV negative result, this means your risk of getting cervical cancer is very low. You do not need any further tests at this stage, and will be invited for screening again in 3 or 5 years depending on your age.

If clinicians find HPV in your cells, this is called an HPV positive result. There are two different kinds of HPV positive result:

  • HPV found 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 and abnormal cells. You will be asked to have a colposcopy.


A colposcopy is a simple procedure to look at your cervix. You can find out more about having a colposcopy here.

You can find out more about the cervical screening via the NHS website here. Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, an independent, charity, also offers helpful information. You can call Jo's helpline via 0808 802 8000 or use its Ask the Expert Service.

Support for LGBTQ+ people

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:

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust has information, advice and support about cervical screening after sexual violence.

Support for people with a learning disability

This information is correct as at: 10/03/2021