Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Women's health centre

Select a topic to explore more.
Select An Article

Cervical smear test

What is a cervical smear test?

A cervical smear test is a test of a sample taken from a woman's cervix. It is not a test for cancer

The current test is used to detect abnormal cells that left untreated could develop into cervical cancer.

If detected early, cervical cancer can be cured.

Cervical cancer screening

In the summer of 2016, the NHS cervical screening programme in England announced it is changing from routine cervical smear testing and looking for changes in the cervical cells to testing for HPV first.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by persistent infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV) - so experts hope that identifying this risk earlier will lead to more accurate screening.

In the new testing programme, women will be invited for testing in the same way, but samples taken will be tested for HPV first using a viral DNA test.

If HPV is detected, abnormal cells are more likely to be present, and women will be offered a cervical smear test and monitored closely for any abnormal cells developing.

If the HPV test is negative, there will be less anxiety for women and a lower risk of over-treatment.

How is a cervical smear test performed?

The cervical smear test is done during a pelvic examination. A doctor or practice nurse uses a device called a speculum to widen the opening of the vagina so that the cervix can be examined. A small plastic brush is used to collect cells from the cervix. After the cells are taken, they are placed into a solution. The solution is sent to a lab for testing.

Is the cervical smear test painful?

A cervical smear test is not painful, but the pelvic examination may be a little uncomfortable.

When will I know the results of the cervical smear test?

You should receive a letter with the result of your test within six weeks of being screened.

What do the results of a cervical smear test mean?

A normal cervical smear test means the cells from the cervix look normal. An abnormal cervical smear test means the cells do not look normal. Sometimes repeat cervical smear tests are needed. Different tests also may need to be done, such as a colposcopy (the use of a special microscope to examine the cervix and vagina). Cervical smear tests can occasionally show signs of infection but cannot be relied on to screen for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Other tests are necessary to determine the presence of an STI. There are several things you can do to help make the cervical smear test as accurate as possible. These include avoidance of sex and vaginal creams for 48 hours before the test.

Next Article:

WebMD Medical Reference

Women's health newsletter

Health news, features and tools for your life.
Sign Up

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

mature woman
Go for the glow!
avacado on whole wheat crackers
Plenty of healthy options
bowl of soup
Small changes that lead to weight loss
baby eating from spoon
What to feed your baby in the first year
cold sore
How to cope with cold sores
womans eye
See what eye conditions look like
toddler doodling
What to expect in your child's second year
bain illustration
Best foods for your brain
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning for a healthy home
mother and child
Could your baby be allergic to milk?
cute baby
Simple tips to keep baby's skin healthy