A smear test, or cervical screening, is used to detect abnormal cells in your cervix (the entrance to your womb).
What is a smear test?
A smear test (also known as a cervical screening test), is used to detect certain subtypes of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cervical cells, as well as check whether there are any abnormal cervical cells (dyskaryosis) which need treating before they become cancerous.
What are the benefits of a smear test?
Cervical screening saves lives. However huge numbers of young women in the UK are still frequently missing their smear test. It’s estimated that if all eligible women attended their screening regularly, 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented.*
By attending regular smear tests, abnormality can be detected early and treated before they become cancerous, preventing cervical cancer from developing.
Is a smear test right for me?
All women over the age of 25 will be invited for a smear test every 3 years up to the age of 49, and women aged 50 to 64 every 5 years.
Even if you haven’t had penetrative sex, you could still be at risk of developing the HPV virus as foreplay can also pass this on, so it’s vital to book an appointment.
To book a free NHS smear test, call your GP. Alternatively, you can book a private smear test. Many of our hospitals offer smear tests and we also offer them as part of our 360+, 360 and Female Health Assessment.
How to prepare for a smear test
It’s best to book your smear test for mid-cycle – around a week after your period has ended. The test can be carried out at any point of the month, apart from during your period.
We recommend that you avoid using spermacides, lubricants, pessaries and ointments for a few days before the test.
What happens during a smear test?
A smear tests takes about five minutes. A speculum is inserted in your vagina to gently hold it open. A nurse or doctor will use a small brush to take a sample of some cells on your cervix. The sample will be sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope.
Smears performed by Nuffield Health are tested for both the presence of high risk HPV subtypes and abnormal cells using liquid based cytology in all women over 25 (Dual Testing). Under the age of 25, the HPV testing will only be carried out if there are any abnormal cervical cells found.
Does a smear test hurt?
A smear test shouldn't be painful, although you should speak to the nurse or doctor if you do experience any pain.
You might experience some slight discomfort and so you should remember to take nice deep breaths and keep your legs wide - this will help to relax your pelvic floor.
What happens after a smear test?
Your results will be available within 2 weeks. A copy of you results will be in your health assessment report, or can be provided to you if the smear was part of a GP appointment.
With Dual Testing, there are several different results that can arise. For example:
- routine recall at 3 or 5 years depending on your age for normal results
- repeat in 3 months for an inadequate sample
- repeat in 12 months if HPV positive with normal cells
- or referral to Colposcopy if HPV positive with abnormal cells present.
Your result report will contain the appropriate recommendation for you depending on the result.
Colposcopy is a specific appointment with a Gynaecologist who will conduct a thorough examination of the cervix under magnification and advise you if any follow up procedures are needed.
Read more about what your cervical screening results mean here.
Cervical cancer can be prevented
Whatever the outcome, remember that cervical cancer is one of the only cancers that can be prevented.
However much you dread going, this quick and simple test could be a lifesaver and you should always take advantage of it.
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