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Smear Test

Cervical screening is a routine test to help check the health of a woman’s cervix (the opening to the uterus from the vagina). During the test, a small sample of cells is taken from your cervix, which is then checked for human papillomavirus (HPV). There are over 100 different types of HPV, which can be divided into low risk and high risk. If someone has high risk HPV, the virus is more likely to cause changes to the cells of the cervix, which can sometimes lead to cancer.

Also Known As… a smear test is the colloquial term for a cervical screening test. However, it can also be referred to as a Pap test, Pap smear or cervical cytology.

Contact Gynaecology Clinic

Before

Cervical screening is a routine test to help check the health of a woman’s cervix (the opening to the uterus from the vagina). There are over 100 different types of HPV, which can be divided into low risk and high risk. If someone has high risk HPV, the virus is more likely to cause changes to the cells of the cervix, which can sometimes lead to cancer.

Cancers linked to high risk HPV include:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Vulval cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Some types of head and neck cancer

It is rare for someone with low risk HPV to be at risk of cancer, however the virus could cause other symptoms like warts around the vagina. Some people will have no symptoms at all and could have no idea they have the virus. This is why it’s important to have routine smear tests, so potential issues can be identified and treated early.

In the UK, the NHS cervical screening programme encourages women between the ages of 25 and 64 to attend regular smear tests. Women between the ages of 25 and 49 should be tested every three years and women between the ages of 50 and 64 should be tested every five years. If you have received a letter asking you to book your smear test, you should arrange this with your local GP.

However, if you’re concerned about your risk of developing cervical cancer; are experiencing worrying symptoms such as bleeding between periods, after the menopause or during/after sex; unusual vaginal discharge, or would simply like to book a private smear, our team of gynaecologists / GP’s will be able to help. When booking your appointment, its best to avoid times when you’re on your period as well as two days before or after. If you’re currently being treated for a pelvic infection or unusual vaginal discharge, wait until you have finished your treatment and then book.

Good to know

  • For all intimate examinations and tests, we offer the presence of a chaperone. The chaperone will be a female nurse or a female trained member of staff.
  • If you would prefer a female doctor, please let us know.

From two days before, you should also not have vaginal intercourse, use a tampon or any vaginal medications or creams.

On the day of your appointment, you will need to head to our Outpatients Department to sign in, and once you’re settled, your GP will come and collect you.

During

Typically, a cervical screening appointment will take around 10 minutes.

Your doctor will start the appointment by running through the procedure so you know what to expect. Please feel free to ask any questions. Once you’re ready, you will need to undress from the waist down. The doctor will lock the door to prevent people entering, draw a privacy curtain, and wait on the other side until you are ready. A chaperone will also be present in the room at this point to help you feel comfortable.

Your doctor will then ask you to lie on your back on a couch with your knees bent upwards or in stirrups.

At this point, a smooth instrument called a speculum will be inserted into your vagina. Once in place, the speculum opens to allow a clear view of your cervix. If this hurts too much, don’t hesitate to tell your doctor, as they can use a smaller speculum.

A small soft brush will then be used to take a small sample of cervical cells, which will be sent to a lab for testing. This can feel uncomfortable but it won’t take long.

And that’s it! You can then get dressed and carry on with your day.

After

The results from your cervical screening won’t come instantly as the sample will be sent to a laboratory for examination. Results will normally be ready within 7 days.

Before you leave, your doctor will let you know when your results will be ready so you can book a follow-up appointment. This can be in person or remotely.

Your results

Your results could indicate that:

  • You don’t have HPV and your cervix is healthy
  • You have HPV but no abnormal cells
  • You have HPV and some changes to your cells
  • The test was inconclusive

Most people will not have the HPV virus and a healthy cervix. This means your risk of cervical cancer is very low and you don’t need another screening test for another 3-5 years.

If you have HPV but no abnormal cells, we would recommend you have another smear test in another year’s time. There is no treatment for HPV but your immune system could clear the virus on its own. If after two years, you still have HPV but no abnormal cells, we would recommend a colposcopy. This is a simple test to look at your cervix in more detail.

If you have HPV and abnormal cell changes, we would recommend you have a colposcopy.

If you have an inconclusive result, this does not mean anything is wrong, but that the results were unclear. If this happens, you should have another smear test in three months’ time.

Medically reviewed by Mr Emeka Okaro - MBBS FRCOG on 17/01/2024

How to pay for your treatment

If you’re… paying for yourself

Did you know you don’t need private medical insurance to come to St John & St Elizabeth Hospital? As a self-pay patient, you can access safe, outstanding quality health care at times to suit you.

For scans and tests, as well as to see most consultants, you’ll still need to be referred by a medical professional like your GP, but as a self-pay patient, the process is more straightforward. You won’t need authorisation from an insurance provider, and you’ll have greater choice of consultant and appointment times.

If you’re… insured

St John & St Elizabeth Hospital is approved by all major medical insurance companies. If you have a personal private health insurance policy, or your company provide it for you, you can use it to pay for your care from your initial consultation through to treatment, surgery and aftercare such as physiotherapy. Not all private health insurance plans cover the same things. It’s very important to check exactly what you are covered for with your insurance provider.