CHRISTCHURCH WOMEN'S HOSPITAL
Gynaecology Services - Cervical Screening
What is a Cervical Smear Test?
A cervical smear test detects changes in the cells of the cervix. In a few women these changes could develop into cervical cancer if they are not treated. Treatment at this stage is very effective.
As with all screening tests there is a small chance that some abnormalities may not be detected.
What is the purpose of a Cervical Smear Test?
A cervical smear test detects early changes in the cells of the cervix. If not treated, these changes may develop into cancer. Treatment at this stage is very effective.
Who should have a Cervical Smear Test?
If you are aged between 20 and 70 you should have regular tests whether you are married, single, heterosexual or lesbian. If you have had a hysterectomy and have never had an abnormal smear test result, you do not usually need a cervical smear test but you should check with your doctor. It is especially important to have tests if you are over 35 and have never had a test or have not had a test for over three years. However, you do not need to be tested if you have never had sexual intercourse.
How often should I have a test?
After you have your first cervical smear test you should have another one a year later. Then you normally need one every three years. If your smear history has always been normal, you can stop regular smears at age 70.
Who does the test?
Your own doctor or practice nurse can take the test. You may choose to go to Well Women's Centres or Family Planning Centres where most staff are women. Some areas have community and marae-based health clinics. Maori and Pacific Island smear takers may be available too.
How is the test done?
Some women find the idea of having a smear difficult for many reasons. It helps to tell your smear taker beforehand how you feel.
You will be asked to lie on your side or back, with your knees bent up. Once you are lying down, a speculum (a dilation instrument) is placed in the vagina, so the cervix at the top of the vagina can be seen. The cervix is the area where the uterus (womb) opens into the top of the vagina. Some cells are taken gently with a spatula or tiny brush. The sample is then sent to the laboratory to be examined.
Having a smear takes only a few minutes. It may feel slightly uncomfortable but it should not be painful. The best time for a smear test is two weeks after your period (if you are still having periods). You still need regular smear tests after menopause.
Will I get to know the Results?
Your smear taker will talk to you about how and when you will get your results. Tell the smear taker if you want to know your results even if it is normal.
If you have an abnormal result you maybe referred to a specialist for a colposcopy. A colposcope looks like a pair of binoculars on a stand. Your cervix looks larger through the colposcope and the specialist can see any changes. It may be necessary to take a small piece of tissue (called a biopsy). This may be a bit uncomfortable but it only takes a couple of seconds to take the sample. The examination takes about 15 minutes and the specialist will discuss the result of your colposcopy with you at the end of the examination.
If treatment is necessary, the type of treatment will depend on the sort of abnormality and where it is on your cervix. Some, but not all, abnormalities can be treated under a local anaesthetic either in the colposcopy clinic or in day surgery. Your specialist will discuss the options with you. Your smear taker will also be able to explain the various types of treatment.
When should I have my next Smear?
If you are aged between 20 and 70 you should have smears every 3 years, providing all your test results are normal.
If this is your first test result or you have not had one for 5 years, have another one in a years time. After that, have a test every 3 years.
If you have had an atypical or abnormal smear test result you need to have smear tests more often than every three years. You should have your next smear as advised by your smear taker or specialist.
If you have any bleeding after sex, between periods, or after menopause, or if you have a discharge, don't wait for your next smear test. See your doctor as soon as possible.
For more information contact your local National Cervical Screening Programme staff on 0800 729 729.