What to expect during and after your cervical smear test | Bolt Burdon Kemp What to expect during and after your cervical smear test | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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What to expect during and after your cervical smear test

Almost one in three women miss their cervical screening appointments in the UK, meaning cancer-causing changes can go undetected.

Bolt Burdon Kemp’s specialist women’s health team is passionate about raising awareness of topics many may feel too embarrassed to talk about, so we wanted to demystify what goes on during the two-minute test.

What is cervical screening?

The NHS invites women between the ages of 25 to 49 to attend a smear test every three years, and women between the ages of 50 to 64 every five years.

Cervical screening tests look for abnormal cells in the cervix, which can develop into cancer if left untreated.

By finding and treating these cells early, most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented, which is why it’s vital to attend your screening.

Understandably, some people are nervous or embarrassed about getting the test done. However, the test itself is far less daunting than you might expect, and this two-minute procedure could prevent the development of cancer. If you’ve been putting off a screening test, why not book one today?

How is the test done?

A doctor or nurse will carry out the test. You can request a female doctor if you wish.

The test is taken while you lie on a bed with your legs apart. You will need to undress from the waist down, but you’ll be covered with a paper sheet or towel.

The test itself only takes two minutes. Firstly, the doctor or nurse will use a plastic speculum to open your vagina gently. Then they will take a small sample of cells from your cervix using a very small, soft brush.

You will be able to feel the test happening and while it may feel slightly uncomfortable, it shouldn’t cause pain. The test can be stopped at any time and the entire appointment from start to finish only takes around 10 minutes.

What happens after the appointment?

The test sample is sent off to a laboratory to be tested for cells that can cause cervical cancer.

You will later receive a letter with your test results, which will say one of the following:

HPV Negative87% of people will have a negative result. This result means it’s highly unlikely you will have any abnormal cervical cells. There will be nothing further for you to do until your next test in three-five years’ time.

HPV positive: no abnormal cells – This result means you’ll need to go for your next test sooner, to keep an eye on the HPV. Around 9% of people have this result.

HPV positive: Abnormal cells found – Around 4% of people[1] will have this result. If this applies to you, you will be referred for a colposcopy (a test to look at your cervix). Biopsies may be taken to check the abnormal cells. It’s important to remember that abnormal cells are not cancer, but they could develop into cancer if left untreated, so you may need treatment to remove them.

Inadequate result – Sometimes the test won’t show if there are abnormal cells or not. If this happens, you will have another test in three months.

If you have concerns

If you have been experiencing any unusual symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge or pain, you do not need to wait for your cervical smear test. Contact your GP straight away to discuss this.

Further information

For further information and resources, check out Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which has a wealth of information about cervical smear testing:

You can also read the NHS public information booklet about cervical screening here.

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