What Happens During a Cervical Smear Screening?
Cervical smear screening is a preventative screening that helps detect changes to the cervix at a very early stage, before any more sinister symptoms start to develop. Routine cervical smear screening helps save thousands of lives from cervical cancer each year by detecting abnormal cells so they can be removed before they become cancerous. Our nurse, Meron, takes you through the essentials:
The cervix is located on the neck of the womb and is part of the female reproductive system. Cervical cancer is caused when abnormal cells grow in an uncontrolled way causing a tumour. Women should have a routine cervical smear screening regardless of their sexual history, sexual orientation, or whether they have been vaccinated for the human papillomavirus (HPV).
What is the Human papillomavirus (HPV)?
HPV are a group of very common viruses amongst sexually active people. HPV is transmitted through direct sexual contact and skin-to- skin contact to the genital area including via vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Nearly all cervical cancers are linked to HPV infection.
There are more than 100 different strains of HPV, however 14 strains are associated with increasing the risk of developing cervical cancer. Most HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and people will not know that they carry the virus in their body, so they can transfer the virus to other people unknowingly.
HPV is normally a self-resolving virus. About 90% of people who get exposed to HPV are able to remove the virus without any intervention within 1-2 years. However, for some people, the virus might linger longer and increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
It takes 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop in women with normal immune systems. Therefore, by attending routine screening, we can avoid abnormal cell from developing into cancer.
Booking an appointment
Appointments for cervical smear screening can be booked with either a doctor or a nurse. Here are some things to consider before booking an appointment.
Menstrual cycle: It is advisable to have a smear test mid cycle. For most women, mid cycle is about 2 weeks from the first day of their period. If you do not have periods, you can book any time.
Pregnancy: It is advisable to have cervical screening 3 months after giving birth. However, if there was an abnormality on your previous screening, you should attend a smear or colposcopy as scheduled even if you are pregnant at the time.
Abortion and miscarriage: Cervical smear screening can be done at least 12 weeks after an abortion or a miscarriage.
Pelvic infection: It is not advised to have a cervical screening if you are having or receiving treatment for any pelvic infections.
During the appointment
An appointment for a cervical smear normally takes 15-30 minute. Having the test itself only takes a few minutes.
First, our nurse or doctor will invite you to a room. They will ask you some general health history questions and they will also thoroughly explain the indication and process of having a cervical screening.
After that, we will give you privacy to get ready and lay down for the examination.
The speculum is gently inserted into the vaginal opening. The nurse or doctor will use a small amount of water-based lubricant to do so. Once the speculum is in the right position, it is opened gently to visualise the cervix. This part might feel slightly uncomfortable but it should not be painful.
Then, a small sample of cervical cell is taken using a small brush and rotating it clockwise a few times on the cervix. If you feel too uncomfortable, you can tell the nurse or doctor to stop at any time. Some light bleeding after a cervical smear is common and normal for most women. No other precaution is needed post screening; you can go about your day normally.
Making your cervical screening experience better
Having a cervical smear screening can be daunting for many women. A lot of young women delay or avoid having their smear due to embarrassment and fear of pain. A survey conducted by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has shown that a large number of young women who attend regular screenings feel body conscious (67%), scared (43%), vulnerable (46%) and not in control (36%) before their test.
Here are some tips to hopefully make you feel more comfortable:
- All our consultations are confidential. Feel free to express your doubts and fears to the nurse or doctor who is doing your smear test.
- You can also contact our clinic before your appointment so we can provide you with information or answer any of your questions before you attend the appointment.
- We can book a longer appointment to ease the process and take more time to make you comfortable.
- You can bring a friend or a family member for support with you if needed.
- Although painkillers are not required, you can use over the counter painkillers such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen if it helps. Bear in mind not to self-medicate beyond that.
- If you have had a good experience with a specific doctor or nurse, you can request that specific person to do the screening.
After the appointment
Your cervical sample is processed in the lab. It takes approximately 5 working days to get your results, which you can choose to receive by email or phone call.
Normal result: No HPV found and No abnormal cell changes found on the cervix
- HPV positive with no abnormal cell changes. In this case you will be advised to repeat your smear in 6-12 months to check if the HPV infection has resolved.
- HPV positive with abnormal cell changes. In this case you will need to be referred to have a colposcopy. In this process, the gynaecologist can have a much closer look at your cervix and examine the extent of the abnormal cell changes.
We remain open during the lock-down operating from 8:00am-6:30pm and are here to support you with your cervical smear screening and other routine care needs.