Cervical screening (previously known as a smear test) frequently appears in OSCEs and you’ll be expected to demonstrate excellent communication and practical skills. This guide provides a step-by-step approach to performing cervical screening in an OSCE setting, with an included video demonstration.
You might also be interested in our OSCE Flashcard Collection which contains over 2000 flashcards that cover clinical examination, procedures, communication skills and data interpretation.
Wash your hands and don PPE if appropriate.
Introduceyourself to the patient including your name and role.
Confirm the patient’s name and date of birth.
Explain what the procedure will involve using patient-friendlylanguage: “Today I need to perform a cervical screening test. The procedure will involve me inserting a small plastic device called a speculum into the vagina. This will allow me to visualise the neck of the womb. I will then place a very small brush into the vagina and take a sample of cells from the neck of the womb. It shouldn’t be painful, but it will feel a little uncomfortable. You can ask me to stop at any point. You may experience some light vaginal bleeding after the procedure.”
Explain the need for a chaperone: “One of the female ward staff members will be present throughout the examination, acting as a chaperone, would that be ok?”
Gain consent to proceed with the examination: “Do you understand everything I’ve said? Do you have any questions? Are you happy for me to carry out the procedure?”
Ask the patient if they have any pain or if they think they may be pregnant before proceeding with the clinical examination.
Provide the patient with the opportunity to passurine before the examination.
Explain to the patient that they’ll need to remove their underwear and lie on the clinical examination couch, covering themselves with the sheet provided. Provide the patient with privacy to undress and check it is ok to re-enter the room before doing so.
Wash your hands
1. Don a pair of non-sterile gloves.
2. Position the patient in the modified lithotomy position: “Bring your heels towards your bottom and then let your knees fall to the sides.”
Position the patient supine
Adequately expose the patient
Inspect the vulva
1. Inspect the vulva for abnormalities:
Ulcers: typically associated with genital herpes.
Abnormal vaginal discharge: causes include candidiasis, bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
Scarring: may relate to previous surgery (e.g. episiotomy) or lichen sclerosus (destructive scarring with associated adhesions).
Vaginal atrophy: most commonly occurs in postmenopausal women.
White lesions: may be patchy or in a figure of eight distribution around the vulva and anus, associated with lichen sclerosus.
Masses: causes include Bartholin’s cyst and vulval malignancy.
Varicosities: varicose veins secondary to chronic venous disease or obstruction in the pelvis (e.g. pelvic malignancy).
Female genital mutilation: total or partial removal of the clitoris and/or labia and/or narrowing of the vaginal introitus.
2. Inspect for evidence of vaginal prolapse (a bulge visible protruding from the vagina). Asking the patient to cough as you inspect can exacerbate the lump and help confirm the presence of prolapse.
Inspect the vulva
Inspect the vulva
Ask the patient to cough and inspect for vaginal prolapse
Bartholin's cyst 1
Lichen sclerosus 2
Vaginal candidiasis 3
Uterine prolapse 4
Female genital mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined by the WHO as all procedures that involve partial or totalremoval of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.7 Over 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM.8 Women attending maternity, family planning, gynaecology, and urology clinics (among others) should be asked routinely about the practice of FGM.9 Cases of FGM in girls under the age of 18 should be reported to the police.10
Bartholin’s glands are responsible for producing secretions which maintain vaginal moisture and are typically located at 4 and 8 o’clock in relation to the vaginal introitus. These glands can become blocked and/or infected, resulting in cyst formation. Typical findings on clinical examination include a unilateral, fluctuantmass, which may or may not be tender.
Lichen sclerosus is a chronic inflammatory dermatological condition that can affect the anogenitalregion in women. It presents with pruritis and clinical examination typically reveals white thickened patches. Destructivescarring and adhesions develop causing distortion of the normal vaginal architecture (shrinking of the labia, narrowing of the introitus, obscuration of the clitoris).
Abnormal vaginal discharge
There are several causes of abnormalvaginaldischarge including:
Bacterial vaginosis: a thin, profuse fishy-smelling discharge without pruritis or inflammation.
Candidiasis: a curd-like, non-offensive discharge with associated pruritis and inflammation.
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea (symptomatic): a purulent vaginal discharge with or without associated inflammation.
Trichomoniasis: an offensive yellow, frothy vaginal discharge with associated pruritis and inflammation.
Inserting the speculum
Warn the patient you are going to insert the speculum and ask if they’re still ok for you to do so.
If the patient consents to the continuation of the procedure, lubricate the speculum and carry out the following steps:
1. Use your left hand (index finger and thumb) to separate the labia.
2. Gently insert the speculum sideways (blades closed, angled downwards).
3. Once inserted, rotate the speculum back 90° so that the handle is facing upwards.
4. Openthespeculum blades until an optimal view of the cervix is achieved.
5. Tighten the lockingnut to fix the position of the blades.
Gently insert the speculum sideways with the blades closed
Once inserted rotate the speculum back 90°
Open the speculum blades gently to obtain an optimal view of the cervix
Fix the position of the speculum using the locking nut
Visualising the cervix
Inspect the cervix:
Identify the cervical os: if open, this may indicate an inevitable or incomplete miscarriage.
Inspect for erosions around the os: most commonly associated with ectropion however early cervical cancer can have similar appearances.
Cervical masses: typically associated with cervical malignancy.
Ulceration: most commonly associated with genital herpes.
Abnormal discharge: several possible causes including bacterial vaginosis, vaginal candidiasis, trichomonas, chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
Inspect the cervix
Cervical ectropion 5
Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia highlighted by acetic acid 6
Cervical ectropion is a condition in which the columnarepithelialcells which are normally located inside the cervical canal are present on the outside of the vaginal cervix (normally the only cells on the outside of the vaginal cervix are squamous epithelial cells). The areas of columnar epithelial cells appear red against the normal pink colour of the cervix and are often located around the externalos. They are more pronetobleeding, due to the presence of a network of delicate fine blood vessels, and as a result, patients often present with post-coital bleeding.
Cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). Prior to the development of cervical cancer, the cells of the cervix can become dysplastic, a condition that is known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). Cervical screening can identify patients infected with HPV who have CIN, allowing early treatment to prevent progression to invasive cervical cancer. Many women do not have symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer, but symptoms can include vaginalbleeding (intermenstrual, post-coital), increasedvaginaldischarge and vaginaldiscomfort. Clinical examination typically reveals white or red patches on the cervix in early disease or the presence of a cervical ulcer or tumour in more advanced disease.
Cervical screening sample
1.Insert the endocervicalbrush through speculum into the endocervicalcanal, avoiding touching the sides of the speculum with the brush.
2.Rotate the brush5times, 360 degrees, in a clockwise direction.
3.Remove the endocervicalbrush, avoiding touching the speculum as you do so.
4. Deposit the tip of the endocervicalbrush into a liquid-based cytology container.
Gently insert the endocervical brush into the external os
Rotate the brush 360°, 5 times, in a clockwise direction
Remove the endocervical brush
Deposit the endocervical brush tip into the sample pot
Removing the speculum
1.Loosen the lockingnut on the speculum and partiallyclosetheblades.
2.Rotate the speculum90°, back to its original insertion orientation.
3. Gently remove the speculum, inspecting the walls of the vagina as you do so.
4. Cover the patient with the sheet, explain that the examination is now complete and provide the patient with privacy so they can get dressed. Provide paper towels for the patient to clean themselves.
5. Dispose of the used equipment into a clinicalwastebin.
Loosen the locking nut
Gently remove the speculum, with the blades partly closed, inspecting the vaginal walls as you do so
Dispose of your equipment into an appropriate clinical waste bin
Wash your hands
To complete the procedure…
Thank the patient for their time.
Label the sample.
Dispose of PPE appropriately and wash your hands.
Document the procedure in the medical notes including the details of the chaperone.
Summarise your findings.
“Today I examined Mrs Smith, a 28-year-old female. On general inspection, the patient appeared comfortable at rest. There were no objects or medical equipment around the bed of relevance.“
“There were no abnormalities noted on inspection of the vulva and speculum examination revealed a healthy cervix with a closed external os. I was able to obtain an adequate sample for cervical screening.”
“In summary, these findings are consistent with a normalspeculumexamination.”
“For completeness, I would like to perform the following further assessments and investigations.”
Further assessments and investigations
Urinalysis: including β-HCG to rule out pregnancy (e.g. ectopic pregnancy).
Ultrasound abdomen and pelvis: to further investigate pelvic pathology.
HPV testing: can be performed on the same cervical screening sample if using liquid-based cytology (no extra swabs required).
Mr Isaac Magani
Medimage. Adapted by Geeky Medics. Bartholin’s cyst. Licence: CC BY-SA.
Mikael Häggström. Adapted by Geeky Medics. Lichen sclerosus. Licence: CC0.
Mikael Häggström. Adapted by Geeky Medics. Vaginal candidiasis. Licence: CC0.
Mikael Häggström. Adapted by Geeky Medics. Uterine prolapse. Licence: CC0.
GynaeImages. Adapted by Geeky Medics. Cervical ectropion. Licence: CC BY-SA.
Haeok Lee, Mary Sue Makin, Jasintha T Mtengezo and Address Malata. Adapted by Geeky Medics. CIN-1. Licence: CC BY.
WHO. Female Genital Mutilation. Key facts. Available from: [LINK].
Farage MA, Miller KW, Tzeghai GE, et al; Female genital cutting: confronting cultural challenges and health complications across the lifespan. Womens Health (Lond Engl). 2015 Jan11(1):79-94. doi: 10.2217/whe.14.63. Available from: [LINK].
Erskine K; Collecting data on female genital mutilation. BMJ. 2014 May 13348:g3222. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g3222. Available from: [LINK].
FGM mandatory reporting duty; Dept of Health and NHS England, 2015. Available from: [LINK].