Cervical screening - What happens at the screening?

Cervical screening is usually done by a female nurse or doctor. If you want to make sure a woman carries out your test, you can ask for this when you make your appointment.

The screening only takes 1 to 2 minutes. Your whole appointment will usually take about 10 minutes.

Depending on what you’re wearing, the nurse or doctor will either ask you to:

  • undress from the waist down
  • pull up your dress or skirt, and take off your underwear

They’ll ask you to lie on a bed with your knees bent and apart. You’ll have a paper sheet or towel to cover your stomach and hips.

They will put a device called a speculum into your vagina and open it gently. This allows them to see your cervix. The speculum is made of plastic, and a new one is used for each screening test. The nurse or doctor will then use a small soft brush to take a sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. You might feel some discomfort, but this should go away quickly. If it feels painful, tell the nurse or doctor and they will try to make it more comfortable for you.

It’s normal to feel worried about having cervical screening, especially the first time. It’s okay to tell the nurse or doctor that you’re nervous. You are in control of what happens, and you can ask to stop at any time.

You won’t get your results straight away. The sample taken by the nurse or doctor has to be sent away to be tested.

You should get your results in a letter, within 14 days. The nurse or doctor will tell you if they think it’ll be very different to that.

Sometimes your results can take a while to arrive. Try not to worry if this happens – it does not mean anything is wrong.

If you’re transgender, non-binary or intersex, thinking about cervical screening might be difficult. The Eve Appeal has resources especially for transgender, non-binary and intersex people which might help you.

You might be especially worried about screening if you’ve experienced sexual violence, trauma, or have a mental health condition.

Almost half of sexual violence survivors say that their experience has stopped them having a cervical screening when they’re invited to. Jo’s Trust has lots of helpful information about having screening after sexual violence. It includes help on:

  • how you can feel in control of your screening
  • how to talk to your medical professional about your experiences
  • things you can do to keep yourself calm and grounded during your appointment

If you have experienced trauma or mental illness and find cervical screening difficult, Jo’s Trust have produced a free booklet to help. The booklet is called support available for your cervical screening (smear test). You can download a copy from the Jo’s Trust website.

It was created with mental health service users and healthcare professionals to offer some extra support with your screening. It includes:

  • tips for during the appointment
  • a checklist of things that may make the test hard for you, which you can share with your nurse