A cervical smear test is an important part of maintaining health for all women who have ever been sexually active. Some women find the smear test uncomfortable or embarrassing and so may put off attending for a cervical smear
The examination only takes a few minutes and could save your life. Statistics show that annual smears reduce your risk of cervical cancer by 92%. It is estimated in the UK that cervical screening saves more than 1000 lives a year. Although cervical screening is not 100% accurate, 80-90% of cervical abnormalities are detected through regular smear tests and can therefore be treated early to prevent cancer. It is the women who don’t attend for regular smear tests who are putting their health at risk.
What Is A Cervical Smear Test?
A cervical smear test is a test for detecting changes in the cervix (neck of the womb). The test will find that some women have changes in the cells of the cervix. About one in ten smear test results show evidence of abnormal cell changes. If abnormal cells are found, in many cases they will go back to normal on their own, but sometimes they continue to develop. If left untreated, these cells may eventually develop into cancer. Cervical cancer can easily be prevented if abnormal changes are found and treated early. The important thing to ensure is that you attend for regular smears.
The Smear Test-What To Expect
Try to schedule your smear test for the middle of your menstrual cycle. It is easier to get a good sample from your cervix at this time. A cervical smear cannot be taken during your period because it is too difficult to get an adequate sample.
Many women find the thought of a cervical smear worse than the actual smear itself. A smear test only takes about five minutes and while it maybe a little uncomfortable, it should not hurt. You will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on an examination couch. You will be given a blanket to put over yourself. You will be asked to put your feet together and let your legs fall open. The nurse will then insert a speculum into your vagina. A speculum is an instrument that holds the walls of your vagina open so your cervix can be seen. Once your cervix is visible the nurse will use a tiny brush or spatula to gently scrape off a sample of your cervical cells. The cells are then smeared onto a glass slide to be sent to the laboratory to be viewed under a microscope. The speculum will be removed and the smear test is over.
Who Should Have A Smear Test?
The Department of Health in the UK recommends that women between the ages of 20 and 64 have routine regular smears. Once you are over 64 your risk of cervical cancer is reduced. If you are over 64 and have had a recent abnormal smear, it is recommended you continue screening until you have had three normal smears. Cervical cancer is extremely rare in women who have never been sexually active; therefore most recommendations suggest women don’t need to have smears until they’ve had sex.