Ali, diagnosed with cervical cancer, stands in the Welsh hills smiling

1 in 4 don't attend their cervical screening test

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is a way of preventing cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix). It uses tests to find abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. Regular cervical cancer screening is important for anyone with a cervix. This includes women, trans men and people assigned female at birth.

 

The first part of cervical screening is to have a smear test. This is also called the cervical screening test. Having a smear test can feel quite personal and embarrassing. For some, the thought of going for a cervical screening test may be daunting and they may not go. In the UK, 1 in 4 of those invited for a cervical screening test don't attend.  There is information and support available if you are worried or unsure about cervical screening.

A Macmillan nurse sits smiling with a young woman looking at a Macmillan information booklet
A Macmillan nurse sits smiling with a young woman looking at a Macmillan information booklet

frequently asked questions about cervical screening

  • How painful is a cervical screening (smear) test? Does it hurt?

    A cervical smear test should not hurt, but sometimes it can feel uncomfortable. If you're worried about the test causing you pain, your GP or practice nurse can explain ways they can make the test easier for you.

  • What is a cervical screening (smear) test looking for?

    A cervical smear test checks for abnormal cell changes in the cervix. Cervical cell changes are common, and often improve naturally. But sometimes these changes need treatment because there is a risk they may develop into cancer.

    How your cervical smear sample is tested depends on where you are in the UK. 

    In England, Scotland and Wales, the sample is tested for a virus called HPV first. Samples that show high-risk HPV are then checked under a microscope for abnormal cells. 

    In Northern Ireland, the sample is checked for abnormal cells first.

    Wherever you have your smear test, the aim is to find the small number of people who need treatment to prevent cancer.

  • Is cervical screening necessary?

    Abnormal cell changes in the cervix cause no symptoms. You will not know if you have them unless you have cervical screening. Screening finds abnormal cell changes, including the ones that are most likely to become cancer. These cells can then be treated. This is an effective way of preventing cervical cancer.

    Cervical screening is important to have, even if you have had the HPV vaccination. The vaccination protects against the most common types of high-risk HPV that cause cervical cancers. But it does not protect against all types.

  • How often is cervical screening?

    If you have a cervix and you’re between the ages of 25 and 64, you should be offered a regular cervical smear test.

    If you are registered as female with a GP the NHS will contact you when it is time for your test. If you are registered as male and have a cervix, you may not be sent an invitation. Tell your GP if you want to have cervical screening, so they can arrange regular tests for you. 

    At the moment, how often you are invited for a smear test depends on where you live in the UK. It is always best to check for the most up to date information in your area. You can find out more from:

    If you have any questions about your cervical screening invites, you could also talk to your GP, practice nurse or local sexual health service.

  • What is the difference between a smear test and cervical screening?

    A smear test is the test to collect a sample of cells from the cervix. It is also often called a cervical screening test. 

    Cervical screening means using the smear test, and if needed another test called a colposcopy, to find the cervical cell changes that are most likely to become cancer. These cells can then be treated to prevent cervical cancer developing.

  • How do you prepare for a smear test?

    You do not need to prepare in any way for a smear test. You may find it helpful to wear loose and comfortable clothing that you can remove easily. 

    You will usually be given information before your test about preparing for a smear test. This may include:

    • Planning your appointment for a day you do not have a period.
    • Avoiding vaginal medications, lubricants and creams for 2 days before the test.

    If you are worried about an upcoming cervical screening test, it may help to talk to someone about your concerns. This could be a friend or relative, or healthcare professional. Your GP or practice nurse can answer any questions you have. 

  • Should I have a smear test if I'm LGBTQ+?

    Cervical screening is for anyone who has a cervix, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

    The main risk factor for cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV can affect all sexual orientations and anyone who has ever been sexually active. If you are lesbian or bisexual you are still at risk and should have screening.

    If you are a trans man or non-binary person and have a cervix, you should have screening too. But, you may not be sent an invitation if you are registered as male with your GP. Tell your GP if you want to have cervical screening, so they can arrange regular tests for you.

    Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust (Jo's Trust) has detailed information about cervical screening for trans and non-binary people . This includes information about having a smear test, trans-specific clinics and further support.

    You do not need cervical screening if you are a trans woman or were assigned male at birth.

if you need a colposcopy

What you can do if you are worried about cervical screening

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Get support from Macmillan

Information resources about cervical screening

What you can do to help this cervical screening awareness week

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Spread the word

Share this page on social media. Spread the message about how important cervical screening is and help reduce fear around cervical screening.

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Be there for loved ones

Encourage friends and family to attend their cervical screening appointments. Talk to them about their concerns if they are worried.

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Share your experience
Do you have experience of cervical cancer? Share your experience with us to help people going through the same thing.