Your Cervical Smear Explained

Commonly known as a “Smear Test”, Cervical Screening is used to test the health of your cervix, and the presence of Human Papilloma virus, which can lead to changes in the cells of your cervix.

A smear test is not a test for cervical cancer, but can show changes in the cells of your cervix that may mean you are at higher risk of developing this in the future. That’s why it is very important that all eligible women attend their regular smear tests, as it’s one of the best ways to protect yourselves from cervical cancer.

All women aged 25 to 49 are entitled to a smear test every 3 years, and those aged 50 to 64 every 5 years. A letter of invitation is usually sent out when you are due, but if you think it’s been more than 3 (or 5) years since your last smear test, please contact the surgery to check if you need to book in with the nurse.

Please visit Cervical screening: leaflet for women considering screening for an explanation about your Cervical Screening test to explain how to prepare and whether to attend for one, in several languages.

You can watch a video about smear tests, by visiting YouTube: What is a cervical screening test?.

For advice about cervical smears for lesbian and bisexual women, please visit Cervical screening for lesbian and bisexual women.

Cervical Screening is not meant for people with symptoms of Cervical Cancer.

These include unusual bleeding from the vagina, particularly after sexual intercourse, in between periods or after the menopause. If you have any of these please call one of our GPs to discuss it further. It is important to remember there are other causes of these symptoms that aren’t cancer, however if you do notice them then please speak with one of our GPs to discuss it further.

Your Cervical Screening Results

The results of your Smear Test usually take about two weeks to return. There are two elements to the test:

  • Test for HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). This is a common virus, which is passed on through skin to skin contact, usually through vaginal, anal or oral sex. If present in the cervix it can lead to cell changes that in some cases lead to cervical cancer. There are over 100 types of HPV and not all lead to cell changes in the cervix. Some cause no issues at all, and some can cause genital warts
  • Cell changes at the location of the cervix. In England, this is screened for if you are positive for HPV (A system known as HPV Primary Screening). It is not routinely looked for if you are Negative for HPV, given the strong association between being HPV positive and having cell changes. Cell changes do NOT mean you have cervical cancer, but you may be asked to attend for a repeat smear test sooner than 3 years, or be referred on to the Colposcopy clinic for further investigation if you have cell changes.

For further information on the different types of cell changes and what they mean, please see the leaflets above, or the links below:

If you would like to learn more about Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), please see our HPV FAQs Leaflet.

Further information can also be found at Human Papillomavirus (HPV) FAQs | Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

Cervical Screening

If you think you would benefit from leaflets about screening that are easier to read and understand, with useful pictures to help explain it, please click on the links below for more information.

Download: Having a Smear Test: An Easy Guide (PDF)