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What happens at cervical screening?


  1. NHS Choices, Cervical screening, www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-screening/  Accessed: August 2018



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

At your cervical screening (smear test) appointment, a nurse takes a sample of cells from your cervix using a small, soft brush. The test only takes a few minutes.

If you feel worried about going for cervical screening, you are not alone. It may help to know as much as possible about what going for cervical screening is like. You could ask someone you trust about their experience, speak with your nurse or doctor, or call our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000 for more support.

Check our Helpline opening hours >

Booking your cervical screening appointment

If you are registered with a GP, you will get a letter telling you it is time for your cervical screening appointment. You have to contact your GP to book an appointment. You can usually do this online or over the phone. 

In some areas, sexual health clinics offer cervical screening. You may choose to contact your local clinic if you aren’t able to access, or don’t feel comfortable at, your GP surgery. 

Read our blog about what to expect at your cervical screening appointment >

Appointment times

Many GP surgeries offer cervical screening appointments on set days or at set times. If you can’t attend any of the available appointments, speak to your GP surgery to see if they can be flexible for you. 

Things to think about before booking  

  • Write down any questions you want to ask, such as what safety measures they have in place or if your GP surgery any specific instructions for you. 
  • It is best not to book a cervical screening when you have your period because it can make it harder to get a result. 
  • You should try not to use spermicide or oil-based lubricant (lube) for 24 hours before the test, as they can affect the results.


What happens at the GP surgery?

Plan to spend at least 30 minutes at your GP surgery, which may include waiting for your appointment or being directed to the room. The test itself, where your nurse takes a sample of cells from your cervix, will only take a few minutes.

Arriving at your GP surgery

Your GP surgery will give you details about what to do once you arrive.

Although face coverings are no longer mandatory in healthcare settings, you can still choose to wear one if you wish


Your cervical screening appointment 

A nurse, sometimes called a sample taker, will invite you into a treatment room. They will explain what cervical screening is and check if you have any questions. 

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Your GP surgery will follow local guidance about wearing PPE. If your nurse is wearing PPE, this may include a mask, gloves and apron.

Your cervical screening test 

Your nurse will give you a private space to undress from the waist down, usually behind a curtain. If you are wearing a dress or skirt, you can leave this on and just take off your underwear. 


Someone having cervical screening

Someone lying back on an examination bed. A nurse has gently put a speculum inside the person's vagina to see the cervix, so they can take a sample of cells.Your nurse will ask you to lie on an examination bed and give you a new, clean paper sheet to cover the lower half of your body. You can lie:

  • on your back with your legs bent up, your ankles together and your knees apart 
  • on your left side with your knees bent. 

Your nurse will let you know when the test is about to start. First, they gently put a new, clean speculum into your vagina. A speculum is usually a plastic cylinder with a round end – sometimes a metal speculum is used. The speculum is the part that some people find uncomfortable.

Once the speculum is inside your vagina, the nurse will gently open it so they can see your cervix.  

Then the nurse will use a small, soft brush to quickly take a sample of cells from your cervix. This may feel a bit strange, but should not be painful.

The nurse will put your sample of cells into a small plastic container (vial) of liquid. The liquid preserves the cells so they can be sent to a lab for testing. 

And that’s it! The nurse will take the speculum out of your vagina and give you a private space to dress again. They will explain how and when you should get your results.

Read about how your sample is tested >


A speculum and brush

A gloved hand holding a speculum and brush used in cervical screening.

After your cervical screening appointment

Most people can continue their day as usual after the appointment.

You may have some light bleeding (spotting) for a day after the test, so it can help to wear a sanitary pad or panty-liner.

Your cervical screening results should arrive by post within 4 weeks.

Read about cervical screening results >


Cervical screening appointment FAQs 

Everyone’s experience of cervical screening is different. Some people don't find it uncomfortable, while for others it may be uncomfortable or hurt. There are lots of reasons, physical and pyschological, for this. It is important to tell your nurse or doctor if cervical screening is painful for you.

If you want to go for cervical screening, there are ways to make the test more comfortable and make sure you get the right support.

Read our tips for making cervical screening better >

No. Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is a charity independent of the national cervical screening programme, GP surgeries and other clinics and cannot book a cervical screening appointment for you.

If you want to book a cervical screening appointment, contact your local GP. Some sexual health services in your area may also offer cervical screening. 

Read about how coronavirus has affected booking a cervical screening appointment >


How we can help

Whether it’s your first time or you have been before, we know that going for cervical screening may make you feel anxious. It may help to remember that everyone has a different experience of cervical screening. If you need any support, it is important to let your nurse or doctor know.

Read our blog on deciding whether to go for cervical screening >

We have more information about:

If you have questions or need some emotional support, our Helpline is open on 0808 802 8000

Check our Helpline opening hours >

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. 

Join our Forum >


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]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

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What happens after cervical screening? >

Find out how cervical screening samples are tested.

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Date last updated: 
31 May 2022
Date due for review: 
07 Jan 2023
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