Smear tests (cervical screening)
Having your regular smear test (also known as cervical screening) is a very important part of being a woman. Although some women may feel anxious or embarrassed about having a smear test, our team here at Sexual Health Wirral, work hard to ensure it is as easy and painless as possible. All of our staff are highly trained and are very skilled in taking smears.
The aim of a smear test is to detect abnormal cells on the cervix (the entrance to the womb), which could lead to cervical cancer. A smear test 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.
Who is screened?
All women who are registered with a GP are invited for smear tests:
- aged 25 to 49 - every three years
- aged 50 to 64 - every five years
- over 65 - only women who haven't been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests
Women who are not registered with a GP should still have their smear tests, although they are unlikely to receive invitation letters as they will not appear on any national database. It is important that these ladies are not missed. If you are not registered with a GP, have not received an invite in the last 4 years or would like further advice you can call our team on 0151 514 6464.
Where can I have my smear test when it is due?
Once you've received your invitation letter through the post you can book an appointment for your smear test at your GP Practice or at any one of our Sexual Health Wirral clinics. Smear tests at our clinics are by appointment only and you can ask to have a female doctor or nurse. 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. You can book an appointment at one of our clinics via our online booking system or by calling our team on 0151 514 6464.
What does the smear test involve?
The test usually takes around five minutes.
The doctor or nurse will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum allows them to see your cervix by holding open the walls of your vagina. The doctor or nurse will then use a small, soft brush to take some cells from your cervix.
Some women find the procedure a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing, but for most women 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 sample of cervical cells will then be sent to a laboratory where it will be examined under a microscope for abnormal cells. You should receive the result within two weeks.