What is a cervical smear test?
If you are aged between 25 and 65, it is extremely important to be regularly screened for cervical cancer.
The screening, often called the ‘smear test’ is a simple test, which can be carried out by your GP, and takes very little time to do. While some women are anxious that it may be painful, it rarely causes anything other than slight discomfort.
The smear test is performed to look for any changes in the skin covering the cervix and is not, as many people think, a test to detect cancer.
Sometimes your test may show up an abnormality, which may or may not result in you being referred to a gynaecologist. One of the most common tests the gynaecologist is likely to carry out is a colposcopy, which involves examining your cervix with a special microscope.
In England, all GP surgeries have a call-recall register, which ensures that all women aged 25-65 receive a reminder when their smear test is due and also the test result.
Over four million cervical smear tests are carried out each year and about 10% of these tests show an abnormality which may require referral to a gynaecologist.
to read about the treatment(s) involved in treating Abnormal Cervical Smears.
If you would like more information or wish to make an appointment regarding an abnormal cervical smear test, please get in contact.
Pre cancerous changes and possible treatment.
A cervical smear is not a test to detect cervical cancer. Smear tests are used to detect changes in the skin covering the cervix, which could become more serious if ignored. These changes are called pre cancerous (doctors use the term CIN). Although not all CIN changes need treatment, many do and they can be treated very easily and effectively where necessary.
Very minor abnormalities on smear tests are common and can get better without any treatment. Your GP may simply recommend that your smear test is repeated (usually after six months) and further action is only required if the smear continues to show changes. In future, the HPV test (see below) may be very useful in this situation.
So what if you need a colposcopy?
In many cases, it is necessary to be referred for a colposcopy test. This test, usually done by a gynaecologist, involves an examination of the cervix using a special microscope. This is done in an outpatient clinic and is no more uncomfortable than having a smear test. Sometimes a biopsy is recommended and usually this causes only minor discomfort. If the colposcopy examination shows CIN and treatment is recommended, this can usually be done at the same time with a local anaesthetic. The whole gynaecological clinic visit is likely to take no more than 30 minutes.
Human Papilloma Virus.
It has been known for a long time that a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the cause of most of the problems with cervical smear tests. Recently, a simple test has been developed which can detect this virus and it is likely that testing for HPV will also be included as part of the NHS cervical screening programme in the future. The result of an HPV test can be particularly useful in helping to decide whether a minor abnormality on a smear test needs immediate treatment or whether it can be safely ignored and the smear test just repeated at a routine interval.
For further information about the treatment of abnormal smears, visit the website of the British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (www.BSCCP.org.uk