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Everyone has a different experience of cervical screening. If you are looking for ways to make cervical screening (a smear test) better for you, there are lots of things you can try. On this page, we talk through different tips.
We also have information about:
The tips on this page are for everyone, although you may feel some are not right for you. It may take a while to try a few things before finding something that works for you.
If it is your first cervical screening, you feel embarrassed or worried, you have had a bad experience before, or you have experienced anything that makes the test hard for you, telling the person doing the test means they can try to give you the right support. If you don’t feel comfortable saying something, try writing it down.
If you feel uncomfortable in waiting rooms, you may want to ask to book the first appointment of the day. This can mean it is quieter and there is less time for you to wait.
At the moment, many GP surgeries are not using waiting rooms because of coronavirus. Instead, you may be asked to wait outside until you are called in for your appointment. If your surgery is using a waiting room, it will be much quieter because they are trying to limit the number of people in the surgery.
Having more time before, during or after cervical screening can help people take in information about the test and process everything that happens. If this would be useful for you, you may want to check if your GP surgery can offer you a longer appointment.
The receptionist may ask why you need a longer appointment – remember, you do not have to disclose anything.
You may feel more comfortable knowing that a female or male nurse will be doing your cervical screening. If you have a nurse or doctor you trust, you may want to check with your GP surgery if they are able to do it.
At the moment, GP surgeries may not allow someone else to come into your appointment or the surgery with you. This is because they are limiting the number of people in the surgery, to help protect against coronavirus.
However, if it would help or you need assistance, it is still worth asking if someone can come with you. It could be a friend, family member, partner or someone else. They can be in the waiting room or examination room with you to offer support. They may also be able to speak on your behalf about any worries.
If a trusted person isn’t able to come to the appointment, you can check if another member of staff can be with for support. This person is sometimes called a chaperone.
If you feel comfortable wearing a skirt or dress, it may help you feel more covered. You can keep it on during the test and only take off your underwear.
You do get a paper sheet to cover yourself. If you would like to, you can also ask if you can bring a spare shawl or blanket too.
Speculums come in different sizes. If you find the standard size too uncomfortable, you can ask to try another size.
You may feel more relaxed and comfortable about putting the speculum in your vagina yourself. If you have a partner with you, you may prefer them to put the speculum in.
Lying on your back may feel uncomfortable for lots of reasons. You can ask to lie on your left hand side with your knees bent (left lateral position).
If you have gone through or are going through the menopause, let your doctor or nurse know. After menopause, the opening of the vagina and vaginal walls become less able to stretch, which can make the test more uncomfortable. You can ask your nurse to give (prescribe) you a vaginal oestrogen cream or pessary, which may help.
Sometimes the nurse may not be able to see your cervix. This could be because you have a tilted cervix, cervical stenosis (where the vagina narrows) or something else. It does not mean there is anything to worry about. The nurse may suggest you go to a colposcopy department for cervical screening, as they have equipment like adjustable beds that can help when trying to see the cervix.
Some people prefer to go for cervical screening in a clinic that meets their needs.
If you have experienced sexual violence, the charity My Body Back has clinics in London and Glasgow. The London clinic is for people living anywhere in the UK, and the Glasgow clinic is for people living in Scotland. My Body Back clinics are currently closed due to coronavirus, so you may prefer to wait until they are open for appointments.
If you are a trans man and/or non-binary person with a cervix, you may experience dysphoria around cervical screening, as well as other feelings that make the test difficult. If you want to go for cervical screening, there are a number of specialist clinics in the UK. Due to coronavirus these clinics, except 56 Dean Street, are closed for cervical screening, so you may want to wait until they are open for appointments:
We know that cervical screening isn't easy for everyone. If you are worried about the test or know you find it hard, we are here to support you with questions or by talking things through on 0808 802 8000.
We also have a welcoming community in our online Forum, where you can get and give support. There are lots of conversations about cervical screening, so you can choose to read existing threads or post your own messages.
If you have general questions about cervical screening, our Ask the Expert service may be able to help. Submit your question confidentially to our panel of experts and get a tailored reply.
Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.
We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]