What is a 'smear test'?
A cervical screening test (sometimes known as a smear test) is carried out to check for abnormal cells on a woman’s cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb and is inside the vagina.
Abnormal cells can later lead to cervical cancer which currently affects around 3,000 women every year, so it’s an important test to have.
Where can I access a smear test?
If you are registered with a GP and eligible for smear testing you will get a letter inviting you to attend a cervical screening appointment. You should then arrange your appointment at your GP practice for a time when you think you will not be on your period.
Our service does not routinely offering cervical smear testing. If you are attending one of our clinics for another reason we may be able to provide a cervical smear test but only if the practitioner reviewing you is a qualified smear taker.
You can also access smear testing at one of the local drop in cervical smear services:
- Tuesday evening from 1730-1930 at Clinic 2, Centre For Women’s Health, Royal Devon University Hospital – Exeter
- Tuesday evenings from 1730-1930 at Petter Ward, Ladywell Unit, Royal Devon University Hospital – Barnstaple
Who should have a cervical screening test?
NHS guidelines are for all women (or anyone that has a cervix) to have regular cervical screening from age 25 to 64.
- aged 25 to 49 – every 3 years
- aged 50 to 64 – every 5 years
- over 65 – only women who have recently had abnormal tests
What happens during a cervical screening test?
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It looks for abnormal cells in the cervix. Abnormal cells can develop into cancer if left untreated.
The test involves using a soft brush to take a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. The sample is put into a small plastic container and sent to a laboratory. It is tested for the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. If you have a negative result for the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, your risk of cervical cancer is very low and there is no need to check for abnormal cells even if you have had these in the past.
If you have a positive result for HPV the lab will check the sample for abnormal cells. Abnormal cells are not cancer, but they could develop into cancer if left untreated.
As a next step the screening programme may offer you another examination (called a colposcopy) to look at your cervix more closely. If abnormal cells are found during colposcopy the cells will be removed. This is how screening can prevent cervical cancer.
More information is available here.