What is a smear test?
A smear test (sometimes referred to as cervical screening) is a free health test available on the NHS as part of the national cervical screening programme. It helps prevent cervical cancer by checking for a virus called high-risk Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cell changes - it's not a test for cancer.
Who can have a smear test?
You can have a smear test if you have a cervix. This includes trans and non-binary people with a cervix. In the UK, you are automatically invited for a smear test if you're:
- between the ages of 25 - 64
- registered as female with a GP practice
You are invited:
- every 3 years between age 25 - 49
- every 5 years between age 50 - 64
How and when will I be contacted?
You may get your first invite up to 6 months before you turn 25. You will receive an invitation letter to your registered home address which will ask you to contact your GP practice to make an appointment.
Why should I have my smear test?
Smear tests prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers developing and not attending is actually the biggest risk factor to developing cervical cancer.
Women can protect themselves against the risk of cervical cancer by attending their smear tests when invited - it's estimated that smear tests save around 5,000 lives every year. However, smear tests are at a 20 year low, with one in three women in the UK not attending their test.
The test is quick and simple to do and usually takes just a few minutes.
Smear tests when you're pregnant
It's usually recommended that you don't have a smear test while you are, or could be pregnant. Pregnancy can make the result of your test harder to interpret. If you are invited for a smear test while pregnant tell your doctor or nurse. You should wait until 3 months after your baby is born to have the test.
Smear tests for lesbian, gay and bisexual women (LGB)
Anyone with a cervix (aged 25 - 64) is eligible to have a smear test. Yet, as well as dealing with common barriers for not attending, LGB women sadly face the myth that they don’t need to attend their smear tests. This is caused by common misconceptions and lack of understanding around HPV and how cervical cancer develops. Research from the LGBT Foundation has shown that 40.5% of LGB women of screening age have incorrectly been told they don’t need to attend because of their sexual orientation. This has had a lasting impact of declining smear test attendance in the LGB community.
I'm anxious and nervous about my smear test. How can I make attending my appointment more comfortable?
- When booking your smear test, ask to see a female health professional - this is not always possible, but staff will understand
- Talk to your nurse; they are trained and experienced in how to help you feel comfortable
- Wear a loose skirt or dress; being covered more may help you feel more comfortable during your test
- Take a friend or family member with you if it will help - most clinics will allow you to take someone in with you
- If possible, see if you can arrange your appointment for the start of the day.
*Please note these slots are pre-booked appointments only - we do not offer smear tests as part of our walk-in clinic offer.