Having cervical screening

Cervical screening is a simple test that checks for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. Finding and treating these changes can prevent cancer of the cervix developing.

The NHS offers regular cervical screening to women aged 25 to 64 who are registered with a GP. This test is important if you are a woman or trans man in this age group and:

  • have a cervix
  • have ever been sexually active with a man or woman.

Usually a nurse or doctor does the test for you at your GP or sexual health clinic. It takes less than five minutes. It doesn’t usually hurt, but you might feel some discomfort. If you are worried or scared about having screening, it may help to talk it through with someone.

You may have some very light vaginal bleeding for a day after the test. Always tell your GP if you have heavy bleeding, bleeding after sex or bleeding between periods.

It may take two to four weeks to get your results. If you do not hear anything by six weeks, tell your GP so they can check for you.

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is a simple test that checks for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the womb (uterus) that joins to the top of the vagina. It is sometimes called the neck of the womb.

The cervix
The cervix

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Why have cervical screening?

Abnormal cell changes in the cervix are common and often improve naturally. But sometimes they can develop into cancer of the cervix (cervical cancer). Abnormal changes cause no symptoms. So you will not know if you are affected unless you have cervical screening. Screening finds any abnormal cell changes. It then identifies the changes that are most likely to become cancer. These cells can then be treated. This is an effective way of preventing cervical cancer.

It takes a matter of minutes that could, ultimately, save your life. It certainly saved mine and I will never miss or delay screening again.

Emma


Who can have cervical screening?

The NHS offers regular cervical screening from the age of 25 to 64 to women who are registered with a GP.

Cervical screening is important for anyone in this age group who:

  • has a cervix

and

  • has ever been sexually active with a man or a woman.

If you are a trans man and still have a cervix, you should have screening too. However, you may not be sent an invitation if you are registered as male with your GP. Let your GP know if you want to have cervical screening, so they can arrange regular tests for you.

If you are pregnant, you can usually delay having your screening test. Your GP or midwife will explain if there is a reason you need the test while you are pregnant. It is safe to have the test but it may cause a small amount of bleeding afterwards. This is normal and does not affect your baby.

You do not need screening if:

  • you are a trans woman
  • you have had surgery to remove your cervix.

If you have had surgery to the cervix, vagina or womb but you are not sure what your operation involved, your GP can find out from your medical records. If you are not sure about having screening for any reason, ask your GP for advice.


What does cervical screening involve?

Usually a nurse or doctor can do the cervical screening test for you at your GP or sexual health clinic. If you have questions or worries about the test, let the nurse or doctor know. They will understand and try to make you comfortable.

When you are ready, you undress from the waist down. You lie down on your back on an examination couch. You will be asked to lie with your knees bent and feet flat on the couch or with your feet together and knees apart. Some clinics have a couch with leg supports.

Having cervical screening
Having cervical screening

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How cervical screening is done
How cervical screening is done

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The nurse or doctor gently puts an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. They use this to open the vagina just enough to see your cervix. They then sweep a small soft plastic brush over the cervix to take the sample of cells.

The test takes less than five minutes. It should not hurt but sometimes it can feel uncomfortable. You may have some very light vaginal bleeding for a day after. You should always tell your GP if you have heavy bleeding, bleeding after sex or bleeding between periods.

After the test, the small brush is sent to a laboratory and your cells are examined under a microscope.


Your feelings about cervical screening

The cervical screening test is a very personal procedure. Many people find it a bit embarrassing. For some, the thought of having the test is too frightening and stressful and they decide they cannot cope with it.

If you are finding it difficult to cope but you want to have the test, it may help to talk it through with someone. You may want to talk to a friend or family member. Your GP or practice nurse can answer any questions you have and explain ways they can make the test easier for you. Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone you don’t know. Some organisations provide information and support about having cervical screening, such as Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

What happens during cervical screening?

In this video, made by healthtalk.org, people affected by cancer share their experiences. They may not be the same as yours, or reflect your situation. Talk to your healthcare team if you have any questions. © University of Oxford

About healthtalk.org videos

What happens during cervical screening?

In this video, made by healthtalk.org, people affected by cancer share their experiences. They may not be the same as yours, or reflect your situation. Talk to your healthcare team if you have any questions. © University of Oxford

About healthtalk.org videos


Getting your test results

After your test, ask the nurse or doctor when you will get the results. In most areas of the UK, you will get a letter with your test results within two to four weeks. If you do not hear anything by six weeks, tell your GP so they can check for you.

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