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Cervical screening (smear test)

Cervical screening (smear test) checks for any abnormalities in your cervix, which can help prevent cervical cancer.

Gynaecologist prepares to perform a cervical screening smear test
Cervical screening (also known as a smear test) checks the health of your cervix.

The cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina. Cervical screenings can help to save lives. Regular testing is the only way to detect abnormalities in your cervix before they could become more serious, so getting your smear test is vitally important.

Smear tests test for a virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV). High risk HPV can cause cervical cells to become abnormal, which can lead to cervical cancer. If any abnormal cells are detected through your smear test, they can be monitored or treated so that they don’t turn into cancer.

Everybody experiences a cervical smear test differently depending on their circumstances, but generally, it is not a painful experience.

It can be uncomfortable and feel invasive, but it shouldn't be painful.

You should postpone your smear test if you start your period. This is because the blood cells on the sample will interfere with the accuracy of results.

It is generally advised that you refrain from having sex for 24 hours before having a smear test. This is to make ensure results are as accurate as possible.

There are do's and don'ts to consider before a smear test. 

You should talk with your nurse about the position that makes you feel most comfortable when getting a smear test (such as lying on your side). They will be able to accommodate your needs and reassure you. You should also ask your nurse to use a smaller smear test speculum to prevent any discomfort if needed.

You should avoid applying any vaginal creams or lubricants before a smear test, or booking your smear test close to the time you usually have a period (if you have a regular cycle).

In most cases, abnormal cells are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Having a smear test can detect abnormal cells in the cervix and can also identify abnormalities at an early stage. If abnormal cells are detected, you will have the option to have them removed before they can become cancerous.

There are over 100 different types of HPV. If your sample shows any abnormalities, then the testing for HPV types will be carried out on the same sample.

How often you have a routine smear test depends on where you live in the UK.

Maintaining the correct smear test frequency is important, because smear tests can help you detect cancerous cells.

In England

Cervical screening is routinely offered to anyone with a cervix in England between the ages of 25 and 49 every three years. If you are aged 50 to 64 years, you will be offered a routine smear test every five years. 

In Scotland

Cervical screening is routinely offered to anyone with a cervix in Scotland between the ages of 25 and 64 every five years.

In Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, all women aged 25-49 are invited to attend for a cervical screening test every three years. Women aged 50-64 are invited every five years.

In Wales

Cervical screening is routinely offered to anyone with a cervix in Wales between the ages of 24 and 64 every five years.

If you fall outside these age categories, or would like more regular screening, you can do so privately.

We have specialist clinics managed by Consultant gynaecologists and nurses. To find out where your nearest location is and to book your smear test, you can get in touch with us on 0808 296 4404 or book online.

The smear test procedure typically takes around five minutes and the appointment itself lasts around 10 minutes.

When preparing for a smear test, you will be asked to undress behind a screen from the hips down. Your nurse or GP will place a sheet over you. Your nurse will then ask you to lie back with your knees bent and both your feet and knees apart.

Your nurse will then place a smooth, tube-like smear test tool (otherwise known as a speculum) into your vagina.

A small amount of lubricant may be used if you experience discomfort. The nurse will then open the speculum to look into your cervix . With a soft brush, your nurse will take a small sample of cells from your cervix. Finally, the nurse will close and remove the speculum. They will then leave you to get dressed. It is common to experience some spotting or light bleeding after your smear test.

You can talk to your nurse about changing your position at any stage to feel more comfortable before or during the test.

While some women experience smear test pain as a result of circumstances, usually a smear test is not painful, but only mildly uncomfortable.

You may have some light spotting after a cervical screening procedure. This is normal and does not indicate something is wrong, rather that your cervix has been irritated by the test.

If you are under the age of 25, your chance of developing cervical cancer is low.

This is why women under 25 won’t be invited to have a cervical screening test through the NHS cervical screening programme.

However, if you’re worried or concerned about your cervical health and are under the cervical screening age according to the NHS, there is always the option of having a private smear test with us.

The minimum age for a smear test is 18.

There is no specific HPV test for women in place (for example, in the form of a blood test). This is why getting a cervical smear test to detect abnormal cells caused by high-risk HPV is so important.

To find out more about our cervical smear test services, call 0808 296 4404 or book online today. 

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