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Cervical smear test & cervical screening: 12 frequently asked questions

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6. 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.

7. What happens if the results are abnormal?

An abnormal cervical smear test does not necessarily mean that cancer cells were found during the examination. There are many causes for abnormal cervical smear test results. Your doctor will evaluate the results to determine if further testing is necessary.

8. Why would I need to repeat the cervical smear test?

A repeat cervical smear test may be necessary if you had an infection at the time of the test or if there were not enough cells collected during the test. Since decreased levels of the female hormone oestrogen also can influence cervical smear test results, menopausal women may need to take oestrogen before they repeat the test.

If the results of the repeat cervical smear test are still abnormal, your doctor may recommend that you have a colposcopy to further evaluate the problem.

9. What is a colposcopy?

Colposcopy is an examination of the cervix and the walls of the vagina. During the examination, a speculum is inserted into the vagina (as done in a cervical smear test). Your doctor looks through a magnifying instrument called a colposcope to detect cervical problems that cannot be seen by the eye alone. During the colposcopy, the colposcope remains outside the vagina. Biopsies (tissue samples) of the abnormal cervical area may be taken.

Colposcopy is not always necessary immediately after an abnormal cervical smear test. Be sure to ask your doctor about other options.

10. What symptoms should I watch for between cervical smear tests?

Pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix seldom cause symptoms. For problems to be detected, a pelvic examination and a cervical smear test are usually required.

When cancer is present in the cervix, the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding. Bleeding may start and stop between regular menstrual periods, or it may occur after sexual intercourse. Abnormal vaginal discharge is another symptom. Pain is NOT an early warning sign of the disease. These symptoms are not sure signs of cancer. Seek medical advice if any of these symptoms develop.

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