Cervical Cancer Screening

Cervical screening (a smear test) checks the health of your cervix and takes a sample of cervix cells to check for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. All women and people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 should go for regular cervical screenings. You’ll get a letter in the post inviting you to make an appointment. 

Cervical screenings help prevent cancer. 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.

Age When you're invited
Under 25
Up to 6 months before you turn 25
25 to 49

Every 3 years

50 to 64

Every 5 years

64 or older
Only if 1 of your last 3 tests was abnormal

How often should you get screened?

The recommended frequency of screenings are a good rule of thumb, but see your GP about cervical cancer screening if you’re 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 if any of these symptoms cause you any distress. Contact your GP surgery online or by phone if you think you are due to have cervical screening but have not been sent an invite.

What happens during a cervical cancer screening?

During the screening appointment, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix (the opening to your womb from your vagina). 

Here’s how the procedure will take place:

  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.

Try not to put off your cervical screenings; it’s important to stay on top of your screenings to protect yourself from cervical cancer. 

What do your results mean?

If human papillomavirus (HPV) is not found in your sample, 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’ll be invited for screening again in 3 or 5 years.

If HPV is found in your sample but has 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.

If HPV is found in your sample and has abnormal cells, you will need a different test to look at your cervix– a colonoscopy.

Speak to the GP surgery if you have questions about cervical screening invitations, results or any symptoms you have.

For more information and support about going for cervical screening, results and treatment, you can contact Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust by: