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What happens at a cervical screening test appointment

You will usually have your cervical screening test at a GP surgery or at a clinic. During cervical screening a small sample of cells is taken from your cervix for testing.

The test takes about 5 minutes. The whole appointment should take about 15 minutes. It is like a smear test if you had one before.

It's best to book an appointment for when you do not have your period.

If you've experienced sexual violence

If you have experienced sexual violence, you may find the idea of having a cervical screening test difficult.

4 of the 6 Sexual Assault Treatment Units (SATUs) across Ireland offer cervical screening.

They are:

Donegal SATU

Dublin (Rotunda) SATU

Galway SATU

Waterford SATU

Staff at these SATUs are trained in providing a cervical screening service for people who have experienced sexual violence.

They can make cervical screening more comfortable for you.

We hope to make this service available at other SATUs in the future.

Before your screening appointment

Avoid using any vaginal medications, lubricants or creams in the 2 days before you have your test. They can affect the results.

Bring your PPS number with you. We need this to identify your correct records and update them.

In many GP practices and clinics, you can:

  • ask for a female GP or nurse to take your screening test
  • have a friend or family member in the room with you
If you're worried about discomfort during your cervical screening test

You may be worried about a cervical screening test if you:

  • have vaginal dryness
  • have vaginal atrophy
  • find cervical screening tests painful

Tell the GP or nurse before the test, they may be able to make the test more comfortable.

If you have vaginal dryness, talk to your GP about treatment. They may be able to prescribe a vaginal tablet or gel that you can use for 2 weeks before your test to moisten your vagina.

When to go to your GP if you have vaginal dryness

Before starting, the GP or nurse should give you information about cervical screening. They will ask you to sign a form to say you understand the information and to consent to taking part in CervicalCheck. This is called giving your informed consent.

Things to ask when you book

Illustration of a womb, cervix and vagina overlaid on a body with lines pointing to them from text with the name of each part
Your cervix is the opening of your womb from your vagina.

How cervical screening is done

The GP or nurse will ask you to undress from the waist down and lie down on a bed. You can usually remain dressed if you're wearing a loose skirt. But you will still have to remove your underwear.

They will ask you to lie on your back with your legs bent, feet together and knees apart. But you can lie on your side if it’s more comfortable for you.

When you are ready for the test:

  1. They gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina - this holds the walls of the vagina open. They may use a small amount of lubricant.
  2. They open the speculum so they can see your cervix.
  3. Using a soft brush, they take a small sample of cells from your cervix.
  4. They remove the speculum and leave you to get dressed.

You can ask the GP or nurse to stop at any time.

Some women find the screening test slightly uncomfortable or embarrassing, but for most it's not painful.

The GP or nurse will put the sample in a pot to send to a lab. The lab will check the sample for HPV first. If HPV is found, the sample will also be checked for abnormal cells.

A pair of blue-gloved hands holding a plastic transparent speculum which has a small white brush at its centre
A speculum (plastic or metal) and soft brush are used to take a sample of cells from your cervix

Things that can make the test more comfortable

Things you can try that might make the test better for you include:

  • bringing someone with you for support - check when booking that it's ok to bring someone
  • wearing something you can leave on during the test, like a skirt or long jumper
  • asking the GP or nurse to use a smaller speculum
  • asking the GP or nurse to use a lot of lubricant if you have vaginal dryness
  • telling the GP or nurse that you want to lie in a more comfortable position to have the test
  • taking slow, deep breaths to help you relax
  • letting the GP or nurse know during the test if it is painful

If you are taking testosterone

Your screening test may be uncomfortable if you are taking long-term testosterone. There may be physical changes to your body, particularly to your genital area.

Talk to your GP or nurse. They can help make the test more comfortable for you.

Contact CervicalCheck if you have any questions

Things to look out for after cervical screening

You may have some spotting or light bleeding after your test. This is very common and should go away in a few hours.

Non-urgent advice: Speak to a GP if you have:

  • heavy bleeding after cervical screening
  • any bleeding after cervical screening that does not stop after a few hours

Giving your informed consent

Each time you have a screening test you’ll be asked to:

  • confirm you understand the information you have been given about cervical screening
  • give your consent to take part in CervicalCheck

You do this by signing a form called a cervical screening form. You'll be given information and the form at your appointment. 

If you would like to see the form, you can download the cervical screening form (PDF, 3 pages, 500KB).

Take the time before your screening test to read it. Check that your name, address and other details are correct.

Sign the consent form when you feel you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.

You should understand:

  • the benefits and limitations of screening
  • the possibility that your sample may also be tested for abnormal cells
  • the likelihood and meaning of a normal result
  • what it means if you are called back for further tests
  • when and how you will get your result
  • how your personal information will be used
  • that we receive, hold and exchange your personal information with those who deliver the programme

Most of this information will be given to you with the consent form. The information is also online. Ask your GP or nurse any questions you have.

Only you can give your consent. If you cannot sign the form, you will be asked to give your consent either verbally or by making a mark on the form.

Contact us at any time to withdraw your consent.

Cervical screening and your personal information

Page last reviewed: 19 December 2022
Next review due: 19 December 2025