What Should I Expect From My First Cervical Screening?


Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon is a GP in Cork city and is the Primary Care Clinical Advisor with CervicalCheck. She also works with the ICGP delivering courses about women’s health to GPs and general practice nurses, and she is the founder of the Women in Medicine in Ireland Network.

She says: HPV Cervical screening starts at the age of 25. The most important thing is making sure you’re on the register in order to get the invite. Check on HSE.ie/cervicalcheck. Once you get the invitation, it’s up to you to make your appointment. It doesn’t really matter where you are on your menstrual cycle, once you’re not right in the middle of your period.

Before the test, do not have anything in the vagina for up to 24 hours beforehand. On the day that you are going for your screening test, some people might choose to bring somebody with them. They can stay in the waiting room or come in with you. For clothing, it’s easier if you wear something loose, like a skirt or a long jumper so you can leave it on and pull it up.

If you’re not feeling comfortable or if you’re not sure what’s happening, you can say that to the person carrying out the test.

It is an internal examination from your vulva into your vagina. You will be lying on your back with your legs opened with your knees apart and ankles together, a frog-like position. They will use a speculum, which is a plastic device that is used to open up the walls of your vagina to make it easier for us to have a look at the cervix.

Then we take a brush with a long handle, put it through the speculum and brush around the cervix to pick up the cells at the neck of the womb five times.

The experience is different, but if you have used a tampon or have experienced sexual contact with vaginal penetration it won’t be an entirely new feeling. It generally takes around five minutes max for the actual test to be carried out.

A small number of people might have a little bleeding after the test. But for most people, once it’s done off you go with your day. Get a nice cake and coffee afterwards, because you deserve to have a nice treat.

Once you have your first screening, your next one will be three years later. Then between 30-65, the test is only every five years.

It’s important to remember if you have any symptoms that you’re worried about, such as unusual vaginal bleeding between or when you’re not expecting your period, bleeding after sex, or anything you’re not sure about, talk to your GP. Screening tests are not for people with symptoms.

This article first appeared in the March/April issue of STELLAR