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15th Nov 2022

This is how you go about getting a smear test and everything you need to know

Have you booked yours?

In the wake of the sad death of Vicky Phelan, there is one thing we need to discuss among many and that is smear tests.

Getting a smear test is something we all dread, but it is something that can save your life. As we’ve seen recently from both Vicky and the late Lynsey Bennett, they can be one of the most important medical tests we get.

Smear tests help detect abnormal cells in your cervix which can lead to cervical cancer.

So how do you go about getting one of these, especially if you’ve recently turned 25 and the idea is even more daunting?

Anyone 25 and over with a cervix is urged to get a smear every five years and can detect if HPV is found.

In the exam, the doctor or nurse will take a cell sample from your cervix and will test for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV). This helps see if there is any early changes in the cells or any pre cancerous cells.

If HPV is found, the cells will be then checked for changes otherwise you are in the clear. Further testing will only be needed if there is a cell change.

HPV is a virus common in sexually active people but for women or people with cervixes it can lead to cervical cancer. Usually a HPV clears up on its own, but there is a chance it can lead to more serious illnesses.

While HPV can be quite common in sexually active women, there are certain high risk types that won’t go away on their own and will need further treatment.

Anyone between the ages of 25 to 65 should get a letter that will invite you to book an appointment for your smear test, which you can register for here.

After receiving your letter, you can then make an appointment in your GP, all you need to is call and let them know you are due a smear test and they will help you out.

Book your test for a time that you are not on your period or on a vaginal treatment of any kind, as well as checking if you are pregnant. Also if you have recently given birth, had a miscarriage or an abortion, discuss it with your doctor beforehand.

If you are in anyway concerned about any issues regarding your cervix but are not due a test, you will need to pay for it, otherwise the routine test is free of charge for the age range specified earlier. Anyone out of this range will also have to pay as it is not recommended to have done unless you have specific concerns.

So what can you expect to happen when you go? You will given details about the HPV virus, the screening process and how the procedure will go.

You then need to give your consent and sign a form before the procedure. Going in for the test, you need to undress from the waist down and lie on the bed with a cover. The speculum will be inserted into your vagina in order to hold it open. A small brush is then inserted to extract the cell sample. The speculum will then be removed and you’re all done. The sample will then go off for testing.

The procedure is an uncomfortable one but not painful, and you can request any doctor or nurse you wish as well as having someone in the room if that is something you are comfortable with.

If you experience any bleeding or spotting, it is nothing to worry about and is completely normal. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after a few hours or is heavier than expected, you should see your GP.

The results of the test should be back to you via letter four weeks after the test. It will say that either HPV was not found, it was found and but there were no abnormal cell changes found, that HPV found and abnormal cell changes found, or that the test was inadequate.

If it comes back saying that no HPV was found, you won’t need another test for 3 to 5 years. If it is found, another test will be needed in 12 months and at this point it should have cleared. If HPV and abnormal cells are found, you will need further testing and a colposcopy.

Check the HSE website or with your GP if you have any further questions or queries regarding smear tests.