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Cervical smear test

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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.

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.

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.

How often should I have a cervical smear test?

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme will invite women for testing.

In England and Northern Ireland, women aged 25-49 are invited for a cervical smear test every three years. Women aged 50-64 are invited every five years.

In Wales, women aged 20-64 are invited for screening every three years.

In Scotland, currently women aged 20-64 are invited for screening every three years. From 2015 women in Scotland aged 25-49 will be invited for screening every three years and women aged 50-64 invited for screening every five years.

Women with certain risk factors, such as being HIV positive (carrying the virus that causes AIDS), a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy, organ transplant, chronic steroid use, or have a history of diethylstilboestrol (DES) exposure before birth, may be screened more frequently.

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. But be sure to see your doctor if any of these symptoms develop.

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