What happens during a smear test?

They’ve been in the news of late as rates of smear tests have dropped. This is madness as they can go a long way to preventing cervical cancer, are only a mild inconvenience, really, and did we mention they go a long way to preventing cervical cancer?


What is a smear test, exactly?

It’s basically a test of the cells in a woman’s cervix (neck of the womb). It can pick up cells that are abnormal – or pre-cancerous, so they can be treated or monitored to see if they are changing further. It’s actually quite common to find changes in cells, and they can often return to normal themselves, but it’s all about catching warning signs before there’s a problem.


Why should you get one?

If the above wasn’t convincing enough, how about the fact that cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer in Europe? The Irish Cancer Society says about 300 women are diagnosed with it in Ireland every year. Catching changes in the cells early on makes it all the easier to treat before things progress.


Who should get one?

Any woman, aged from 25 to 60 who is or has been sexually active (yes, even if you haven’t had any action in ages!). Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus, which is passed on during sex.


Isn’t the whole thing a bit, well, embarrassing?

Look, having a smear isn’t really anyone’s idea of a fun time but (1) it’s over quickly (2) it doesn’t hurt and (3) it is very, very important that you keep on top of things down there. Feeling self-conscious is no reason not to have regular smears. Doctors have Seen.It.All. They won’t care if you’re as hairless as they day you were born or have fully embraced the bush.


What happens at the appointment?

You’ll have to lie back and think of Ireland, as your doctor inserts an instrument called a speculum into your vajayjay. This holds it open while the doctor uses a small, special type of brush to ‘swipe’ a sample of cells from your cervix (the bit where the top of the vagina leads into the womb). It’s over in minutes and should be entirely painless, maybe just a bit uncomfortable.

What next?

The sample is sent to a lab to be checked. You’ll received a letter to notify you when your results will be available but will get the results from your doctor. Abnormal result? Don’t freak out! It could be an infection but it will mean you need to be checked again. That’s usually three months after your last smear, so enough cells are present.


What else?

Ireland is pretty impressive in this regard, offering a free national smear test service. Cervical Check is a national cervical screening programme that provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60. The current recommendation for smears is one every three years. If you sign up to Cervical Check you’ll get reminders when your next one is due. Simples!



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