Can you have a smear test on your period?
Reviewed by our clinical team
In the UK, smear tests – or cervical screenings – are offered to women and people with a cervix every few years. The procedure involves checking the cervix for high-risk types of HPV that might lead to cancer in the future.
Before you book your smear test, it’s important to make sure you’re doing it at the right time. The general rule is to avoid getting a smear test on a day when you have your period. It’s not impossible to have a smear when you’re on your period, but the menstrual blood can make the sample harder to analyse. This may mean that you don’t get a clear result and that you end up needing a second test.
You can find out more about what will happen when you go to your smear test by watching this Cancer Research UK video here.
When in my cycle should I get a smear test?
You can have a smear test on any day that you’re not having your period. Aim for the second half of your cycle (the 2 weeks before your next period is due) if you can. Don't worry if you can't get an appointment at the "ideal" time, the smear can still be taken, if you are not bleeding. People who don’t get periods can have their smear test at any time.
If you’re not sure about the dates of your cycle, you might find it helpful to download a period tracking app, or mark down dates in a diary for a few months before your next smear test is due.
Can a smear test bring on my period early?
A cervical screening shouldn’t affect your menstrual cycle and bring on your period early. However, it’s quite common to experience a little bit of bleeding or spotting in the first few hours after you’ve had your smear.
Heavy bleeding after your smear isn’t normal. If this happens, you should speak to your GP.
How should I prepare for my smear test?
The first step in organising your smear test is waiting for an invitation. Depending on where you live in the UK, and how old you are, you’ll be invited for a cervical screening every three or five years.
Once you have your invitation, which comes as a letter in the post, you can make your appointment. Normally you’ll have your smear at your GP surgery, but you might also be able to have this done at your local sexual health clinic.
When you’re booking your appointment, try to aim for a day when there’s no chance that you’ll have your period – and avoid the two days either side of your period if you can.
What will happen during my smear test?
It’s normal to find the thought of getting a cervical screening a bit scary, especially if you’ve never had one before. The good news is, there’s usually nothing to worry about. Smears are done by experienced nurses and doctors and for most women the process is quick and painless, if a little uncomfortable.
Before your smear, you’ll take off the clothes on your bottom half - including your knickers. If you are wearing a skirt or a dress, you can leave this on - it makes you feel less "naked". You will then be asked to lie down on the examination couch with your legs bent and your knees apart. The nurse or doctor will put a tool called a speculum into your vagina and open it so they can see your cervix. They’ll then use a small, soft brush to sweep away a few cells from your cervix, before removing the speculum.
The whole appointment may take about 10 minutes, but the smear itself only takes a few minutes.
Some tips if you’re feeling nervous include the following:
- Ask questions – the doctor or nurse carrying out your smear will be happy to chat through the process if you’re nervous or you want to know more about what will happen.
- Wear clothing on your bottom half that’s easy to lift up or remove – a dress or skirt is ideal as you can lift this up without taking it off
- Also think about shoes that you can slip off easily.
- If you want to stop, speak up – if you’re experiencing pain or feeling very anxious, tell the doctor or nurse that you want to stop.
- To learn more about cervical screenings and HPV, visit our advice hub here.