What is a smear test?

A smear test, now more commonly known as cervical screening, is an exam aimed at analysing cells from the cervix in order to identify anomalies, infections or lesions which could develop into cancer. It is a routine test that all sexually active women or women aged 25 or above should take at least once every three years.

What does it involve?

The test is not an invasive procedure and it can be carried out at your local GP clinic – there’s no need for anaesthesia. During the gynaecological examination the doctor uses an instrument called a speculum to help to dilate the vaginal opening. The doctor will then gently use a small brush to collect cell samples from the cervix. The samples are then placed on glass slides and sent to a laboratory.

What is it for?

The purpose of the test is to gather cervix cell samples and to determine your cervix’s state of health. With this test it is possible to identify infections (such as the Human Papillomavirus), sexually transmitted infections, or lesions which could develop into cancer.

The test should be taken periodically, at least once every 3 years, or once a year if there’s a family history of cervical cancer. You can’t take the test during your period or in the days immediately before or after menstruation, because that would affect the results. Being on the pill does not affect the test.

Pregnant women or women who have never been sexually active can take the test, but it is always best to talk to the gynaecologist beforehand. For women who have never been sexually active the test could be harder to take or the results might be less accurate due to possible anatomical peculiarities.

How can you prepare for a smear test?

In the days before the swab it is recommended that you abstain from sexual intercourse as well as from using any spermicide, vaginal douche or washings, as those may affect the results of the test. If you are allergic to latex, let the gynaecologist know beforehand.

What does it feel like during the procedure?

The smear test isn’t considered to be a painful procedure, but you may feel a slight discomfort. To help with the discomfort, it can help to take slow, deep breaths: this will help relax the muscles in your pelvic area. The test doesn’t take more than 5-10 minutes and you can go home straight afterwards.

What would a “bad” result mean?

If the test results come back positive it means that the cervix is inflamed, which could be due to different reasons. The test results are an indication of the degree of possibility of developing cancer. Based on the results the gynaecologist may refer you to other, more comprehensive tests, or suggest that you take the smear test more frequently.

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