Introduction to Smear Test
A cervical smear test is a screening program for women between 25 and 65 years of age to prevent cervical cancer.
What is a Smear Test?
A cervical smear test is a screening programme for women to detect and prevent cervical cancer. The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus (womb). Cervical cancer is a preventable disease as early changes can be detected. Since the introduction of the cervical screening programme, the number of cervical cancer patients has dramatically dropped. Most women have this test at their GP surgery. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the first invitation for screening is at age 25 and then every 3 years up to age 49 and then every 5 years until age 64. In Scotland the first invitation is at age 20 and then every 3 years until age 60.
How is the Smear Test procedure performed?
You will be asked to remove clothing from the waist down and lie on your back on the examination bed. You will also be asked to bend your knees and put your ankles together. The healthcare professional will then put a speculum into your vagina. A speculum is a plastic instrument that opens up the vagina to make the cervix visible. Lubricant will be applied t the speculum beforehand to make the procedure more comfortable. Once the vagina is open a thin plastic stick with a brush on the end is scraped against the cervix to collect cells to sample. These cells are then sent to the laboratory to be examined. This procedure is not usually painful, however some women find the speculum uncomfortable.
How to prepare for the Smear Test procedure?
There is not much you can do to prepare for this procedure. It is best to have this procedure done when you are mid-cycle and is best not to be done on your period.
What happens after the Smear Test procedure?
After the procedure the brush containing the cervical cells are sent to the laboratory. The results usually come back after 2 weeks and is sent to you and your General Practitioner. The results are reported as: normal, inadequate or abnormal. There are different grades of abnormality: Borderline, Mild abnormality (mild dyskaryosis), Moderate abnormality (moderate dyskaryosis), Severe abnormality (severe dyskaryosis) and Possible cancer cells.
The test may also look for a sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be involved in the development of cervical cancer.
An inadequate test means the test needs to be repeated as not enough cervical cells were taken in the examination. An abnormal result can mean that you may: need nothing further, have a repeat cervical screening at a shorter time interval or be refereed to a gynaecologist for further examination.