Lots of young women feel uneasy about getting a smear test done, that’s natural. This section covers basic information on what a smear test is. Why and who should have it done how it is carried out, and where to go locally.
Cervical cancer takes a long time to develop and often has no signs or symptoms. Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of death among Irish women under 44, with over 90 lives lost to the disease every year.
The good news is that we know how to prevent cervical cancer. Regular cervical screening ensures that any abnormal cells in the cervix are detected early and treated early preventing the development of cervical cancer.
What is it?
A cervical smear test can detect cervical cancer before it is fully developed and when it is completely curable. Cells are taken from the cervix and are sent to the laboratory for examination. The smear test shows if there are any changes (pre-cancerous cells), which might develop into cancer. It can also detect cancerous cells when cancer has actually developed so that early treatment can be given to halt the spread.
(Cervix is located at the lower part of your womb, which protrudes into your vagina- the passage used in childbirth. (Sometimes called the neck of your womb.))
Who should have it done?
All women who are or have been sexually active between the ages of 25 years and 64 years of age should have a regular smear test.
25-44 years :every three years if smear is ok
45-60 years :every five years if smear is ok
When is the best time to have one?
The best time to have a smear test is mid-cycle, about two weeks after your period (if you are still having periods).
It is best not to have sexual intercourse in the 24 hours before your smear test.
Where can I have it done?
- Donegal Women’s Centre
- Your GP
- Family planning clinics
- Well women clinics
- Some health board clinics.
look up www.cervicalcheck.ie for a list of registered smeartakers.
If you recently had a baby, your post natal check-up may include a smear test.
How much does it cost?
The Donegal Womens Centre is a registered smeartaker under the national cervical screening programme, CervicalCheck, and offers free cervical screening to women aged 25 to 60.
women under 25 years are not eligible for a free smear test.(please ask the registered smear-takers for the cost involved)
If you don’t live in the Donegal,see www.cervicalcheck.ie for a full list of registered smeartakers
What will happen when I have a smear test?
When you go for the test you will be shown into a private room where you will be asked to undress from the waist down. You will be asked to get on a couch and the nurse or doctor will tell you the position to lie in. This will usually be on your back with your knees bent up and outwards or it might be lying on your side with your knees together.
When you are ready, the nurse or doctor will use an instrument called a speculum. A few cells will be lightly scraped from the surface of the neck of the womb. The speculum will be removed and the test is over. You can get dressed. The cells will then be sent to a hospital, where they will be checked.
Will it hurt?
You may find this test uncomfortable but the test only lasts a few minutes. If you can relax you will find it more comfortable. Having a smear test will not harm you, and your body will naturally replace the few cells taken.
How will I get my results?
Before you leave ask the person who carried out your smear test how you can get your results. Your results should be ready in 3 to 6 weeks. You may receive your results by letter or you may be able to ring up for them, but if you do not here within 6 weeks, telephone or call in at the surgery or clinic where you had your test, and ask for them.
What might the results of my test be?
For most women the result of the test is normal, and you will need to go for another routine smear test inn to 3-5 years.
Sometimes you made need another smear because the first test did not give a clear result. If you have a mild infection, you may need a course of treatment, and then the test will be done again.
If your result shows there are slight changes in your Cells,
In the unlikely event that the results show abnormalities, they are classified as either low or high grade.
If the abnormalities are low grade, a HPV test is automatically carried out on the sample. If the HPV test is positive for high risk HPV, you will be referred to a specialist clinic for further investigation. If the HPV test is negative for high risk HPV, you will be advised to have a repeat smear test in 3-5 years, depending on your age.
If the abnormalities are classified as high grade, you will be referred to a specialist clinic for further investigation.
All follow up tests are also free of charge
you will have these results explained to you by a doctor/nurse where you had your smear taken.
It is important to note that a smear test is for cervical screening only and is not designed to detect all gynaecological cancer. Therefore, a negative smear test result does not mean that you should ignore any other symptoms. If you experience any unusual signs or symptoms after your smear test, visit your doctor.
REMEMBER MOST WOMEN WHO HAVE AN ABNORMAL SMEAR DO NOT HAVE CANCER OF THE CERVIX.
THE EARLIER A CHANGE IS FOUND THE EASIER IT IS TO TREAT.
Can I reduce my risk of cervical cancer?
YES, you can reduce your risk by:
- Having a regular smear test every 3-5 years.
- Practicing safe sex.
- Not smoking
Where to go to for help?
If you are concerned about cervical cancer, you can telephone the Irish Cancer Helpline. Free phone: 1800 200 700
Trained nurse will provide information and support in confidence.
From 10.00am to 4.00pm Monday to Friday.