I'm anxious about my cervical screening - what can I do?

Cervical screening, previously called a smear test, is a vital health check-up that helps prevent cervical cancer. Even though it’s important, many people feel anxious about attending their screening appointment. You might not know what to expect, or you’ve had a bad experience in the past. Or you might feel embarrassed. It can feel particularly difficult to attend the appointment if you’re queer, trans or non-binary.

But it's crucial not to let anxiety stop you from attending your cervical screening appointment. Remember it’s a quick, simple procedure that can potentially save lives.

Check out our advice and tips to alleviate your anxiety and make your cervical screening appointment as positive as possible.

If you’ve experienced sexual violence, do take a look at this advice on cervical screening after sexual violence by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

Read all about it

Knowing what will happen in your appointment can help you feel in control. And you can think about anything you might want to prepare beforehand. Read about how the screening is done.

It can be useful to know what options you have as well. For example, if you wear a skirt or dress then you do not have to undress so much. You can ask for a smaller speculum if it’s uncomfortable. Or you can ask to put the speculum in yourself. You can also ask for a clinician of a particular gender, or ask for someone to come with you.

Bring a friend

Clinics sometimes have a limit on how many people can be in the examination room, but you can ask to bring someone into your appointment for support. If it would help, ask a close friend or family member to come along with you. Or you can ask for another member of staff at the clinic to be with you. This is sometimes called a chaperone.

Even if your friend cannot come in during your appointment, it can still help to have them wait with you and meet you once you’re finished.

It’s a collaboration

Your clinician will want you to have a good experience and an easy screening. So if you’re nervous or there’s something particularly worrying you, it’s ok to tell them about it. It can help you to talk it through with them, and it means they can give you the support you need. You can work together to create a better experience. If it’s too hard to talk about, you can write it down and share it with them.

If you’re trans or non-binary, you can talk to your clinician about the language you prefer - from your pronouns to the terms you use for your genitals - and if you want them to explain the process to you.

Take your time

If you want to make sure you’re not feeling rushed, you can book the last appointment of the day. And some clinics will let you book a double-length appointment.

If it’s the waiting that makes you nervous, or you do not want to be around other people in the waiting room, ask if you can have the first appointment of the day.

During the screening

The test is over very quickly. But to make it easier, you can try some breathing exercises to keep you calm and relaxed. You could try listening to some music or using something on your phone to distract you, like a book, game or tv show.

More support

Cervical screening isn’t easy for everyone. If you’re worried about the test and would like more support, you can reach out Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Written by Hel Burrough. Senior Content Designer, SH:24 and Fettle
Reviewed by Helen Burkitt. Senior Sexual Health and Contraception Nurse
Last updated at: 22 February 2024
Published on: 18 April 2023