This Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, we are reminding women about cervical screenings and highlighting how important it is to attend them if you are eligible.
What is a cervical screening?
Cervical screenings test the health of your cervix to help prevent cancer. It tests for a virus called high risk human papillomavirus (HPV). High risk HPV can cause cell changes in the cervix, which over time could develop into cancer. Not all cell changes will develop into cancer but it’s important to monitor any changes and get treatment if necessary. 1
Who is eligible for cervical screenings?
All women between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible to book a cervical screening. You should automatically get an invite from your GP every 3 years if you are aged 25 to 49. After that, screenings reduce to every 5 years, until the age of 64. 1
Cervical screening is available for anyone within this age range who has a cervix including trans men and non-binary people who were assigned as female at birth. 2
What happens at my appointment?
The NHS website explains the test should take less than 5 minutes and is usually performed by a female nurse or doctor.
- You’ll need to undress, behind a screen, from the waist down. You’ll be given a sheet to put over you.
- The nurse will ask you to lie back on a bed, usually with your legs bent, feet together and knees apart. You may need to change position during the test.
- The nurse will gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina. A small amount of lubricant may also be used.
- The nurse will then open the speculum so they can see your cervix.
- Using a soft brush, they will take a small sample of cells from your cervix to be checked for certain types of HPV.
- The nurse will close and remove the speculum and leave you to get dressed.
When will I get my results?
The nurse or doctor who carries out your cervical screening will tell you when to expect your results letter. You can also contact your GP surgery for an update if you have waited longer than expected.
Your results letter will explain what was tested for and what your results mean – the NHS website also has information on what the results you may receive mean.
Tips to make your cervical screening more comfortable
It’s natural to feel a bit anxious before your cervical screening but it’s important to attend your appointment. Here are a few tips to help you feel more comfortable at your cervical screening:
- Try to time your appointment around your period. The best time to have your cervical screening is when you’re not bleeding.
- Wear comfortable clothes. Many women prefer to wear a skirt or dress, so the doctor or nurse can lift it up and feel more covered, rather than taking off leggings or jeans.
- Ask for a female nurse or doctor. In most cases, a female nurse or doctor should be available.
- If you’re uncomfortable, ask to change position. There are a couple of different positions you can lie in, so if you’re in pain or discomfort, tell the nurse or doctor doing the test.
- If you’re anxious, perhaps ask a friend, partner, or family member to go with you. You are allowed someone with you while you have your cervical screening, although due to COVID-19 this may not be possible at all GP surgeries.
For more top tips to help you feel more comfortable at your cervical screening, take a look at this BBC article.
Remember, if you have any unusual symptoms (change in discharge, pain during sex etc), contact your GP – you don’t have to wait for your invite for cervical screening to seek advice.
Information correct as of publishing 23/01/2023