What is a smear test?
A smear test is sometimes also called a cervical smear. Samples of cells are taken from the neck of your womb (cervix). These are checked to make sure they are not abnormal. A smear test does not look for cancers; it looks for changes in the cells that may lead to cancer developing. Every woman over 25 should test regularly and automatic reminders are sent by your GP every three years. For women between 50 and 64 your GP will send out reminders every 5 years.
Who needs one?
EVERY woman in the UK over the age of 25 years should have regular testing regardless of sexual orientation.
“MYTH: Lesbians don’t need smear tests.
FACT: ALL women regardless of sexual orientation are at risk of cervical cancer.”
Where can I get the test?
If you are registered with a GP surgery you will automatically be reminded every three years and you can get the test done there by a Dr or practice nurse or you could attend a sexual health clinic instead.
How often do I need to have a test?
Every woman over 25 in the UK is offered a test every three years and women between 50 and 64 are offered tests every 5 years. If you have had a previous test that showed changes you may be offered more frequent smears, but each time you receive a result it will tell you what should happen next and when.
Why have I been asked to go back for a repeat test?
Sometimes there have not been enough cells collected at the first test or perhaps your sample has shown a low grade abnormality.
If your sample is low grade abnormal a second test for HPV (see page on HPV for more information) will immediately be run on your sample. This will either be negative or positive. If negative you will simply be recommended to return every 3 or 5 years, depending on your age. If the sample is positive you will be referred to a ‘colposcopy clinic’.
What happens at a colposcopy clinic?
Much the same as when you had your smear test taken but the appointment will take longer. The doctor will use a magnifying camera to look more closely at the neck of your womb. The colposcopist may decided that there is no need for a tissue sample or may ask your permission to take some further samples of the cells and tissues on the neck of your womb. Alternatively if the coposcopist suspects there is a high grade lesion he/she may offer you treatment then and there.
Taking samples of tissue can be uncomfortable and you will experience a small amount of bleeding afterwards. This is normal because the neck of the womb has a very good blood supply. You will be asked to return to the clinic to get results of the tests.
For more information and support please see, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/cervical-screening-programme-overview
NHS leaflet for cervical screening in several languages, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cervical-screening-description-in-brief