Cervical screening

What is Cervical Screening?

Cervical Screening (smear test) is routinely offered to women as part of a National Screening Programme between the ages of 25 and 64.

This free test is not to diagnose cervical cancer. The test is to check the health of your cervix and for a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). If this test is positive, you will also be tested for any changes in your cervical cells.

Women should be called routinely every 3 years until the age of 50, and then the frequency is reduced to 5 yearly.

This invite should be automatically sent via your GP surgery. You can then decide if you wish to make an appointment with your GP, Practice Nurse or one of our sexual health clinics. You can only have a cervical screen done if you have been invited.

Before your smear is taken, a national database will be checked to make sure you are due for screening - this means it is important that we have your correct name, address and date of birth.

What happens during the test?

The test does not take very long. You will need to undress from the waist down and lie on a couch. This may be on your back with your legs bent up and knees apart or on your left side with your knees bent.

The doctor or nurse will then put a new, clean instrument, called a speculum into your vagina to be able to see your cervix – this can be uncomfortable for some people. A small brush is then used to pick up the cells from your cervix and transferred into a small container of liquid.

The speculum is then removed and you can get dressed – All done!

The results are sent back to you at your home address via a letter from Public Health. Your GP will also receive a copy of your results. If you don’t receive your results after 4 weeks you can ask your GP to chase them for you.

What happens to my sample?

Your sample is sent to the lab to be tested for HPV – this virus can cause cervical cell changes that may develop into cervical cancer over time. If you are positive for HPV the lab will check the same sample for any cell changes.

Depending on your result and individual risk will depend on when you are recalled for another screen.

What could my result be?

  • No HPV – you don’t have HPV and you will be invited back in 3-5 years depending on your age.
  • HPV detected but no cell changes found – you have HPV but no changes in your cervical cells. You will be invited back in 1 year to check the HPV is gone. If you get this result 3 times in a row, you will be invited to a colposcopy clinic for more tests.
  • HPV detected and cell changes found – you will be invited to a colposcopy clinic for more tests.

What do my results mean?


HPV is a common virus that 8 out of 10 people will get, it can go away on its own without causing any problems.

It is usually passed on through sexual contact but is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. It is very easy to catch and difficult to prevent.

HPV is split into high-risk and low-risk.

Cervical screening checks for high-risk HPV which is linked to some cancers.

Low-risk can cause minor problems like warts.

Whether high-risk or low-risk, most people will get rid of the virus by themselves without any treatment.


Sometimes there are not enough cells in the sample to be seen under a microscope. If you get this result, you will be invited back to repeat your test 3 months later.


No cell changes have been seen.


Abnormal changes may be borderline, low-grade or high-grade. You will only be invited to colposcopy if you have high-grade changes or low-grade changes with HPV.

The websites below will give you more in-depth information about the programme and any further questions you may have.

Further Information

To make an appointment or for further advice, please call:

0300 303 1948

Phoneline open 08:15-16:45 Monday-Friday

(closed 12:30-13:30 for lunch)