The cervical screening test
Cervical screening isn’t a test for cancer. It’s used to detect early changes in cells of the cervix, which may develop into cancer in the future.
Preparing for the test
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Before you have your cervical screening test, you may find it helpful to consider the following factors:
The best time to have the test is before or after your period, when you are not bleeding.
If you’re pregnant when you are invited for your routine cervical screening test, tell your GP. Your GP will usually recommend that you wait to have your test three months after you have given birth. Occasionally, you may be asked to have a screening test while you’re pregnant.
Many women feel nervous and embarrassed about going for a cervical screening test. These are natural emotions and they shouldn’t stop you having it done. If you feel unsure about having the test, it may be helpful to discuss your concerns and worries with the practice nurse or your GP. They can talk to you about the screening and reassure you so you feel able to have the test.
In my experience it’s not painful, I’m not particularly embarrassed, and it’s just one of those things that you want to get done to make sure everything is alright.
Cervical screening is done using a test called liquid-based cytology. It’s a very simple procedure and takes less than five minutes. It can be uncomfortable but shouldn’t be painful. There are no side effects, and once it’s over you should be able to get back to your normal day. The person carrying out the test will explain the procedure, and you should feel able to ask questions at any time.
Once you’re lying comfortably on the couch, the doctor or nurse will gently put an instrument called a speculum into your vagina so that your cervix can be seen. A special brush will be used to gently take cells from the cervix. The head of the brush is then either rinsed into a small container of preservative, or snapped off and put into the container. The container will be sent to the laboratory for examination.
In the laboratory, any blood or mucus that could spoil the test is removed from the sample. Then a thin layer of cervical cells are then spread onto a slide and examined under a microscope.
You’ll receive a letter with your results within about two weeks of having the test done. A copy of the report is also sent to the GP practice where the test was done. If you don’t hear anything within six weeks, you can phone the surgery or clinic and ask them to check up on your results.
If the results show there may be abnormal cells in the cervix, you’ll be contacted and either another test will be arranged, or you’ll be referred to a specialist - for example, a gynaecologist or a nurse colposcopist.