Smear Test (Cervical Screening)
Last updated: April 25th, 2023
What is a smear test?
A smear test, also known as cervical screening or pap test, is a test of the cervix for changes in the cells. The cervix is the opening that connects the womb to the vagina. The main purpose of a smear test is to protect you from cancer, making it a preventative measure. The test accomplishes this by providing vital information about the cervix’s health, giving doctors the opportunity to monitor and/or treat and abnormalities preventing them from turning into cancer.
Why do a smear test?
Smear tests are a preventive procedure and as such there are no causes you need to be aware of. Rather, make sure that you schedule smear tests as recommended by your GP or any other medical professional.
HPV, which is a sexually transmitted disease is also usually covered in smear tests. Data shows that 99.7% of cervical cancer instances are due to this virus. Although the immune system will get rid of HPV infections within 2 years of contracting it, it can also lead to the development of cancerous cells.
When should you do a smear test?
There are no symptoms that you need to be on the lookout for before booking a smear test. Instead, a smear test should be booked on a frequent basis with the general recommendation being every 3-5 years depending on age.
Typically, women under 25 and those over 65 do not need this type of test since cervical cancer is very rare in these age groups. Furthermore, women who have undergone a total hysterectomy may not need this type of test either. Of course, when in doubt, get in touch with a medical professional who will be able to offer you medical advice regarding smear tests and any other tests you might need.
Smear test procedure
During a smear test procedure, a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix using a brush called a speculum. The procedure is typically very short. The extracted cells are then tested for both abnormal cell changes as well as HPV.
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is a sexually transmitted viral infection and includes more than 100 varieties. Some variations of HPV can cause issues including warts and cancer making smear tests important in more ways than one. Make sure you ask your doctor for what will the extracted cells be tested for since this may vary from clinic to clinic.
Due to the sensitivity of the test, it is important that you feel as comfortable as possible. If you have any questions make sure you ask them including asking for a smaller speculum. (The speculum is the metal instrument used to dilate private parts to allow inspection.)
After the smear test, you may notice some spotting or bleeding. This should stop within a few hours. If it does not stop within a few hours or the bleeding turns heavy, consult your GP straight away.