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.