Cervical screening

Cervical screening (a smear test) is a test to check the health of the cervix and help prevent cervical cancer. It’s offered to women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64.

How cervical screening helps prevent cancer

Cervical screening checks the health of your cervix and helps find any abnormal changes before they can turn into cancer.

It’s not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer.

Cervical screening checks a sample of cells from your cervix for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

These types of HPV can cause abnormal changes to the cells in your cervix and are called “high risk” types of HPV.

If high risk types of HPV are found during screening, the sample of cells is also checked for abnormal cell changes.

If abnormal cells are found, they can be treated so they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.

Who’s at risk of cervical cancer

If you have a cervix and have had any kind of sexual contact, with a man or a woman, you could get cervical cancer. This is because nearly all cervical cancers are caused by infection with high risk types of HPV.

You can get HPV through:

  • vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
  • sharing sex toys

You’re still at risk of cervical cancer if:

  • you’ve had the HPV vaccine – it does not protect you from all types of HPV, so you’re still at risk of cervical cancer
  • you’ve only had 1 sexual partner – you can get HPV the first time you’re sexually active
  • you’ve had the same partner, or not had sex, for a long time – you can have HPV for a long time without knowing it
  • you’re a lesbian or bisexual – you’re at risk if you’ve had any sexual contact
  • you’re a trans man with a cervix – read about if trans men should have cervical screening
  • you’ve had a partial hysterectomy that did not remove all of your cervix

If you’ve never had any kind of sexual contact with a man or woman, you may decide not to go for cervical screening when you’re invited. But you can still have a test if you want to.

If you’re not sure whether to have cervical screening, talk to your GP or nurse.

Cervical screening is a choice

It’s your choice if you want to go for cervical screening. But cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect you from cervical cancer.

Non-urgent advice: Important

Try not to put off cervical screening. It’s one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer.

When you’ll be invited for cervical screening

All women and people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 should go for regular cervical screening. You’ll get a letter in the post inviting you to make an appointment.

How often you are invited depends on your age.

How to book cervical screening

You’ll be sent an invitation letter in the post when it’s time to book your cervical screening appointment.

Your invitation letter will tell you where you can go for cervical screening and how to book.

The practice will also send you invitations via phone, SMS and letter.

Things to ask when you book

It’s OK to let the us know if you have any worries about going for cervical screening.


  • let them know if you’d like a woman to do the test – most nurses and doctors who take cervical screening samples are female
  • let them know if you’d like someone else to be in the room with you (a chaperone) – this could be someone you know, another nurse or a trained member of staff
  • ask for a longer appointment if you think you might need more time – some GP surgeries can offer a double booking
  • let them know if you’re finding the test more difficult after going through the menopause – they can prescribe a vaginal oestrogen cream or pessary before the test
  • ask for a smaller speculum (a smooth, tube-shaped tool that’s put into your vagina so they can see your cervix)


  • try not to be embarrassed about talking to the nurse or doctor on the day – they’re trained to make you feel more comfortable and provide support

Videos explaining cervical screening

Dr Ali talks about Cervical Screening

Dr Wyne talks about Cervical Screening in Urdu

Cervical screening – some simple answers to your questions

Cervical screening: how it’s done

Should I go for cervical screening? | Cancer Research UK

Page last reviewed: 25 January 2024