Why do I need a cervical smear taken?
According to Cancer Research UK, early detection and treatment prevents about three-quarters of cervical cancers. Many women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK were never screened, or weren’t screened regularly.
A cervical (or PAP) smear is a test to check the health of the cervix (the neck of the womb). The test checks for changes in cells of women who have had sex. If untreated, changes to the cervix can develop into cervical cancer. Having a trans-vaginal ultrasound at the same time can enhance the results of a smear test. It gives further reassurance by also looking for abnormalities of the uterus (womb) and ovaries.
The smear test involves the doctor taking a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. A vaginal speculum is inserted to gently hold the walls of the vagina open during this procedure. The sample of cells is then sent to a laboratory to be tested for any changes that could lead to cervical cancer. Most women find the procedure a little uncomfortable and unpleasant, but not painful.
Guidelines on the frequency at which cervical screening tests should be undertaken vary from annually to every five years. If results are abnormal, and depending on the nature of the abnormality, the test may need to be repeated within six to twelve months. It is important to try not to worry if you get called back for a repeat test. Problems occur in up to one in 10 cervical screening tests, usually when the cells don’t show up clearly enough. This can happen if:
- you have an infection
- not enough cells were collected during the smear test
- the cells were hidden by blood or mucus.
If the abnormality requires closer scrutiny, the doctor may refer you for a detailed inspection of the cervix by colcoscopy. The doctor may also refer you for HPV or DNA testing to supplement the smear test.
Consult your doctor if:
- you have any queries about cervical screening
- your smear results were negative
- you want a test repeated for any reason.
At Richmond Practice, a female GP or consultant gynaecologist will take the sample of cells for screening. This is usually undertaken as part of a well-woman check and gives you a chance to also talk to the doctor about your weight, blood pressure, contraception and any concerns you may have. We will usually get your smear test results back from the laboratory in 3 days and then send them to you in the post or by email. Even if your test result is negative the doctor or gynaecologist will always discuss it with you.
All the gynaecologists at Richmond Practice can offer you a vaginal ultrasound with your smear, if required. We take great care to ensure you feel comfortable and supported during and after the consultation.