Cervical Smear Test

What is it?

This is a test that is recommended and offered to all women which will check that there are no changes in the cells at the neck of the womb (cervix). It will involve a vaginal (an internal) examination by your GP, family planning doctor, or practice nurse. The doctor or nurse will look at the cervix and gently scrape the surface to collect a few cells which will be sent away to be examined under a microscope.

Will it hurt?

Women who have never had a smear often worry about this. For most women the test is painless and for some slightly uncomfortable. It only takes a few minutes to perform.

Why is it important?

Cancer of the cervix is still common in this country. It can be prevented. Most women who die from this have never had a smear test. Having smear tests regularly should prevent cancer of the cervix.

Some common wrong ideas about the smear test

“I thought it would hurt”

“I no longer have sex, so I didn’t think I needed one”

“I’m too old for that sort of thing now”

“I wouldn’t want to know if I had cancer anyhow”

Some points to remember

  • The smear test is not looking for cancer. It will detect changes in the cells of the neck of the womb before they become cancer.
  • You should have a smear test regularly if you are 25 or older.
  • You should have a smear test regularly after becoming sexually active, even if you stop having sex.
  • Follow the doctor’s advice about when the next smear is due.
  • If you have had regular smears, you don’t need to have them if you are over 65.
  • If you have never had a smear, it is advisable to have one even if you are over 65.

What if it is abnormal?

Most smears are normal.  However, it is common to have a minor abnormality. If the result is abnormal there is usually no cause for worry. It may mean that there are mild changes in the cells and the smear will need to be taken more regularly for a while. If the changes in the cells are more marked you may be referred for colposcopy. This is a more detailed examination of the cervix and any abnormal cells detected can be treated which will prevent cancer developing in the future. An abnormal smear test RARELY means cancer.

A Cervical Information Booklet is available in English and number of other languages. Please ask reception to give you a copy or you can find them on the NHS web site.