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Smear tests for people with a learning disability


June 2023 — Please be aware that this page is currently undergoing review. However, the information
stated is valid.

You may get a letter inviting you to go to a smear test. We know you may find smear tests confusing or worrying, but you are not alone if you feel this way. If you want to ask questions about having a smear test, you can read our information about them. You might want a friend, carer, or learning disability nurse to read it with you. You can also call our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000.


What is a smear test?

Someone having a smear test



A smear test is a free health test. It is sometimes called cervical screening. 

It makes sure your cervix is healthy. 

Your cervix is inside your body at the top of your vagina. You cannot see it.   




Video - What happens at a smear test?

This video is about smear tests. It tells you what happens at a smear test and why it is important. Women with a learning disability are in the video and helped us make it.


Who has a smear test?

A group of women aged 25 to 64 years old


All women between age 25 and 64 are asked if they want to have a smear test. In England and Northern Ireland you are invited:

  • every 3 years between age 25 and 49
  • every 5 years between age 50 and 64

In Scotland and Wales you are invited every 5 years between age 25 and 64.

Smear tests can help stop you getting cervical cancer. It is your choice whether to have a smear test. This information can help you decide. 





A doctor saying no to a woman who wants a smear test




Some carers, guardians, doctors or nurses don't think women with a learning disability need a smear test.  






A carer to guardian thinking about someone having a smear test





Sometimes carers and guardians do not know if you are having sex.

Some parents and carers are embarrassed to talk about it. They may not help women with learning disabilities to get a test.

It is important that women with a learning disability are given the option to go to a smear test because it saves 5,000 lives every year.





What happens during a smear test?

A smear test invite letter



 You get a letter from your doctor asking you to go for a smear test. 






A woman on the phone to her doctor





You need to call your doctors to book a time and day to go. Book a time and day when you are not having your period. 







A nurse talking to someone





A nurse usually does the smear test. If you want to make sure a female nurse does it, tell them.







Someone having a smear test with a loved one to support them





If you want a friend to stay with you, tell them.





  A nurse talking with someone before their smear test




You will go into a private room. The nurse will ask about your health.







Someone taking off their knickers




 The nurse will then ask you to take your knickers (underwear) off.






Someone having a smear test





The nurse will ask you to lie down on a bed. You will have a paper sheet over you. This is the time to try to relax.





 A smear test




The nurse will ask you to open your legs. This is so they can put a new, clean plastic or metal speculum inside your vagina. A speculum is a cylinder with a round end that gently opens your vagina. The speculum may feel uncomfortable. If it hurts, tell the nurse to stop.





A nurse taking a swab during a smear test




A small, soft brush is put inside the speculum. It takes a sample of cells from your cervix. This should not hurt.






A clock showing 15 minutes has passed





The speculum is taken out and the test is over. You can leave. The whole visit to the doctor takes 15 minutes at the most.






A scientist looking at cells through a microscope and the results letter





The sample of cells is tested. You will get a letter with your results in a few weeks. You can talk about your results with your carer, guardian, or learning disability nurse.





Read our EasyRead booklet

If you found this information helpful, you may like our EasyRead booklet. We made it with women with a learning disability. It is about smear tests and it explains:

  • what smear tests are
  • why they are important
  • what cervical cancer is.

Download our EasyRead booklet >

How we can help

Lots of people find smear tests confusing and worrying, so you are not alone if you feel this way. If you want to ask questions about having a smear test, you may want to speak to you carer, guardian or learning disability nurse. Or you can call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000.

Images on this page

Artwork includes material from the Inspired EasyRead Collection and cannot be used anywhere else without written permission from Inspired Services. Visit www.inspired.pics

How we research and write our information >

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Date last updated: 
13 May 2021
Date due for review: 
23 Oct 2021
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