Why am I being invited?

Cervical screening is a routine test for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which can cause changes in your cells that might cause cancer. All women in England between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for cervical screening. It’s important to know that cervical screening is not a test for cancer, but can pick up changes early even when very little or no symptoms are present so you can be treated to prevent cancer developing.

How do you book in for your cervical cancer screening appointment?

You’ll be sent a letter in the post when it’s time to book your cervical cancer screening appointment. Your letter will have all the important information you need and tell you where you’ll need to go for your screening and how to book. Some surgeries send text invites and reminders in addition to letters.

Are cervical cancer screenings done in a hospital?

Cervical cancer screenings are usually done in your GP surgery by a female nurse or doctor. You may also be able to go to your local sexual health clinic and can check online if this option is available.

Is there anything I need to do ahead of the cervical cancer screening?

There is nothing you need to do before your appointment. On the day you might prefer to wear a long skirt or dress that is easy to lift up, but also still covered, so you can keep it on all the time which also helps to stay warm. The doctor or nurse taking the test will need you to be relaxed so it’s important to feel comfortable. It’s also important that you avoid using any vaginal medicines, lubricants or creams in the 2 days before you have your test as they can affect your results.

Will it be painful?

Cervical screening can be uncomfortable, but shouldn’t hurt. If you’re really worried about experiencing any form of pain then you’re welcome to take paracetamol or ibuprofen ahead of the screening, but this isn’t generally needed. If you do feel pain at any time during the test, let the nurse know and she can stop.

Is there anything I should ask when booking in for a cervical cancer screening?

It’s important that you’re comfortable and as relaxed as possible when attending your screening so let them know in advance if you’d like someone else to be in the room with you – this could be a friend or a member of staff.

If you feel that you might need more time to get settled then ask for a longer appointment – some GPs can offer a double booking.

If you’ve gone through the menopause and are feeling anxious or scared about the screening process let your doctor know in advance and they can prescribe a vaginal oestrogen cream or pessary beforehand.

If you’re worried about experiencing pain, ask for a smaller speculum (a smooth, tube-shaped tool that’s put into your vagina so they can see your cervix) to minimise any discomfort.

What does the cervical cancer screening process entail?

Your nurse or doctor will ask you to lift up your clothes from your waist down and take off your underwear. You lie on your back on a couch and the nurse or doctor will give you a paper towel to cover your hip area.

You generally lie with your knees drawn up and spread apart. If this is difficult for you, you can lie on your side with your knees drawn up.

Your nurse or doctor will gently slide a plastic instrument called a speculum into your vagina so that they can see the cervix clearly. Having the speculum put in may be a little uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt. It can be more uncomfortable if you are very tense so it’s extremely important to try and relax. Taking some deep calming breaths can help. Your nurse or doctor will also be there to support you and you also have someone with you in the room at all times should you need it.

The whole process will not take more than a few minutes.

Is there anything I need to do after the cervical cancer screening?

There is nothing you need to do after screening. You should be able to get on with your day as usual.

Is everything kept confidential?

Yes, your results are strictly confidential and will only be available to yourself and your GP or nurse. Any requests to use your data for research purposes will always be shared with you for approval and consent.

What happens next?

You should receive your test results within two weeks. If your test shows that something might not be normal, your doctor will contact you and call you back in for an appointment. There are many reasons why test results might not be normal. It doesn’t mean you have cancer.

If your test results show cells that are not normal and may become cancer, your doctor will let you know if you need to be treated. In most cases, treatment prevents cervical cancer from developing. It is important to follow up with your doctor right away to learn more about your test results and receive any treatment that may be needed.

If your test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. You will be invited for screening again, when your next test is due. This will be in three years if you are between 25 and 49 years old and five years if you are between 50 and 64. Between your cervical screening tests you should see your doctor if you have any unusual vaginal pain or bleeding. This might not be a sign that you have cervical cancer, but it’s still important to get checked. Don’t wait for your next screening appointment.