A cervical screening test (previously known as a smear test) is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix.
The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina. Detecting and removing abnormal cervical cells can prevent cervical cancer.
Cervical screening isn’t a test for cancer; it’s a test to check the health of the cells of the cervix. Most women’s test results show that everything is normal, but for around 1 in 20 women the test shows some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. Most of these changes won’t lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal on their own. However, in some cases, the abnormal cells need to be removed so they can’t become cancerous.
About 3,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK. It’s possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, although the condition mainly affects sexually active women aged 30 to 45. The condition is very rare in women under 25. Being screened regularly means any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing.
Your screening appointment
- If possible, try to book an appointment during the middle of your menstrual cycle (usually 14 days from the start of your last period), as this can ensure a better sample of cells is taken.
- If you use a spermicide, a barrier method of contraception or a lubricant jelly, you shouldn’t use these for 24 hours before the test, as the chemicals they contain may affect the test.
- The cervical screening test usually takes around five minutes to carry out. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on a couch, although you can usually remain fully dressed if you’re wearing a loose skirt.
- The doctor or nurse will gently put an instrument, called a speculum, into your vagina. This holds the walls of the vagina open so the cervix can be seen. A small soft brush will be used to gently collect some cells from the surface of your cervix.
- Some women find the procedure a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing, but for most it’s not painful. If you find the test painful, tell the doctor or nurse, because they may be able to reduce your discomfort. Try to relax as much as possible, because being tense makes the test more difficult to carry out. Taking slow, deep breaths will help.
The cell sample is then sent off to a laboratory for analysis and you should receive the result within two weeks.
Who will be doing your test?
Our cervical smear tests are undertaken by a fully qualified Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Dr Bryan Beattie MD FRCOG.
You will always be accompanied by a female chaperone during your test.