How to prepare for your cervical screening

Thanks to vaccination and screening, cervical cancer should be almost entirely preventable. Vaccination prevents infection with the most common cancer-causing strains of HPV, the virus responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer. Cervical screening is a test that detects changes to the cells of the cervix, often caused by prolonged HPV infection, and allows abnormalities to be treated before becoming cancerous. Regular cervical screening is the number one way to prevent cervical cancer.

There are two cervical cancer vaccines; Gardasil9® and Gardasil® which guard against up to 90% of the HPV infections that can cause cervical cancer as well as other cancers in men and women.

Vaccination in Arm
GP Waiting Room

Cervical screening

HPV is a common virus that can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer.

Planning or going for a cervical screening can be daunting. It's one of the most intimate examinations you can receive from your health care specialist, but it's also one of the most important. A simple examination could save your life.

Schedule your appointment at any time in the month when you aren't having your period. Your health care specialist will most likely ask you about your last period, when it began and its duration, and also if you are using contraception which type of pills or method you use. It is good to write down any questions or concerns you have so you remember to mention them.

Feel free to bring a friend or relative you trust along as a support person if you wish to. On the day wear a top and skirt or similar as your nurse will ask you to remove your clothing from the waist down so that they can examine you.

What to expect when going for a cervical screening

Cervical screening is a relatively simple procedure that can be over and done with in just a few minutes and should not be painful. Empty your bladder for comfort prior to the procedure. Your doctor will ask you to remove your clothing from the waist down and lie on your back. It is likely your doctor will give you a sheet to cover your stomach and thighs to make you feel more comfortable. When you are ready, your health care professional will ask you to bend your knees so they can insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. This will usually be a small tube and it holds the walls of the vagina open allowing a clear view of the cervix. This part of the exam can feel slightly uncomfortable or awkward as there may be some pressure on your pelvic area but shouldn't be painful. If you do feel any pain let your doctor know and they can adjust the speculum. Your health care specialist will then use a brush to gently collect a cells from the cervix. The cells collected are then sent off to a lab for examination to check for the presence of any cervical abnormalities.

And that's it! You can go about your day. The exam doesn't prevent any activity afterwards. You may have slight spotting after the test, however if you have any pain or heavy bleeding after the test then it is best to let your health care specialist know.

For many women it is important that they feel comfortable with the person who will be doing the test. Take your time to find a health care specialist or Practice Nurse that you feel comfortable with and make sure you share any concerns or worries you have about the procedure or about your reproductive health or anatomy. Try not to be shy or embarrassed about any question you might have, no doubt the health care specialist or practice nurse has been asked many times before and they can set your mind at ease.

A couple of minutes could literally save your life.

Doctors Appointment

When to get your cervical screening?

A cervical screening can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if you don't know what will happen when you do.

However, with women still dying each year from cervical cancer, it is extremely important to make sure this potentially lifesaving test is not put off for too long.

The NHS recommends that all women who are registered with a health care specialist should aim to have a cervical screening done:

  • aged 25 to 49 - every three years
  • aged 50 to 64 - every five years
  • over 65 - only women who haven't been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests
Pen and Paper Checklist

Cervical screenings are nicer with the Comfort Checklist!

UK Cervical Cancer has developed a new woman-focused “comfort checklist” for cervical screening.

Comfort Checklist objectives:

  • Increase awareness and understanding of the need for regular screening amongst women.
  • Increase the likelihood of cervical screening being perceived as a “comfortable” procedure and positive experience.
  • Include ways to overcome barriers to improve screening adherence.
Menopause Checklist

We also now have a checklist relating to menopause for you to look at. We hope this will aid you.

Helped so many lives

As a cervical cancer survivor, I owe a debt of gratitude to UK Cervical Cancer. Their comprehensive approach to combating
this disease, from awareness campaigns to funding research, has made a tangible difference in countless lives, including mine.

Laura Adams

Cervical Cancer Survivor