5 myths about cervical screenings

5 July 2023

Commonly known as a smear test, a cervical screening is the new name for the test offered to women and people with a cervix in order to detect changes to the cervical cells that could potentially lead on to cancer.

There are many unhelpful misconceptions when it comes to this topic which prevent women from realising the importance of the test and cause missed appointments. According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 3,200 new cases every year, yet 99.8% of cervical cancer deaths could be prevented.1

We’re taking a look at the top 5 myths, so when it comes to your next appointment, you’re informed with what will happen and exactly what it’s for.

Read more on why cervical screenings are so important

Top 5 myths on cervical screening

It will be too painful

While some people may experience mild discomfort, it shouldn’t be a painful experience. If, however, it does then tell the nurse and they will try to make you feel more comfortable or try using a smaller speculum, for example.

They’ll also keep you informed throughout and tell you what they are doing to help ease your mind. Remember you can stop the procedure at any time and try again, but the whole procedure is normally done in about 30 seconds.

The test is for cancer

This isn’t true. The test is actually to help prevent cancer. During the screening a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix and tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. These are called "high risk" types of HPV.

If these types of HPV are not found – you do not need any further tests.

If these types of HPV are found – the sample is then checked for any changes in the cells of your cervix.

These can then be treated before they get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.2

A cervical screening will detect other cancers too

This is another misconception. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust highlights: “1 in 5 people mistakenly believe cervical screening can detect ovarian cancer,”3 but it’s actually designed to find high-risk HPV or cervical cell changes.

It’s not there to detect or diagnose any other conditions or cancers.

I’ve had the HPV vaccine, I don’t need a test

Although a study in 2021 showed that the HPV vaccine programme for teenage girls is very effective, it’s still essential to go for your screening.4

Even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine it doesn’t protect against all types of HPV. So, the general rule is that everyone – women or transgender men – with a cervix, aged 25 to 64, are at risk of cervical cancer and should go for cervical screening when they’re invited.

I’m not sexually active, so it’s doesn’t apply to me

This is another common misconception normally going hand-in-hand with sex being the sole cause of cervical cancer. This isn’t true. If you are sexually active, previously been sexually active or only had sex with a woman you still need to be tested; as HPV can be passed through any skin-to-skin contact, or with the use of adult toys.

If you have a cervix then cervical screenings apply to you regardless of your sex life.

With lots of myths going around it’s easy to see why someone is put off attending their screening. However, a general rule is that everyone – women or transgender men – with a cervix, aged 25 to 64, are at risk of cervical cancer and should go for their free cervical screening when they’re invited by the NHS.


  1. Cervical cancer statistics – Cancer Research UK
  2. Cervical screening - NHS factsheet
  3. Myths and facts about cervical screening – Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust
  4. Myths and facts about cervical screening - Patient