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Your smear test – everything you need to know

Main image 13 June, 2018

The facts of cervical cancer

  • Every day in the UK, 9 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer
  • 3 women lose their lives to the disease every day
  • Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 35
  • 75% of cervical cancers are prevented by cervical screening (aka, smear tests)
  • Approximately 25% of women do not book appointments for this potentially life-saving test

What is the smear test for?

It is a common misconception that the cervical screening test – or smear test – tests for cancer. It doesn’t, but what it does do is check the health of the cells of the cervix. Most women will receive test results that show that everything is normal, but for approximately 1 in 20 women, the test will show some abnormal changes in the cervix.

For the most part, these changes won’t lead to cervical cancer and may revert back to normal on their own. However, sometimes the abnormal cells need to be removed as they are at a high risk of becoming cancerous.

Approximately 3000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year.

Whilst it is possible (although extremely rare) for women under 25 to develop cervical cancer, the condition usually affects sexually active women between the ages of 30 and 45. However, all women are, unfortunately, capable of developing it.

What to expect at your smear test

  • You will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on your back on an examination bed.
  • You will be asked by a doctor to bend your knees, keeping your ankles together and then let your knees fall to the sides naturally.
  • A sterilised medical instrument, called a speculum, will then be inserted into your vagina. These come in several sizes so if you feel the need to ask for a different size, you may do so.
  • The speculum will then be gently opened to hold the vaginal walls open so that the cervix is visible. A specially designed brush will then be inserted to collect cells from the cervix.
  • Once the sample has been taken, it will be sent to a laboratory and results will be available 2-3 working days afterwards.

Helpful tips for your smear test

  • A lot of women may feel embarrassed about this procedure – but you can take solace in the fact that there really is nothing to be embarrassed about. The age-old adage of “they’ve seen it all before” really is true. Our doctors are highly professional and experienced and if you are feeling embarrassed, simply talk to them and let them know and steps can be taken to help you feel at ease.
  • The screening might be slightly uncomfortable for some women, but it should not be painful. If you are in pain at any point, please let your doctor know.
  • If you are nervous, it can make the screening more physically uncomfortable for you. Try taking a few deep breaths and relaxing. If you are feeling nervous, talk to your doctor at any point during the screening, they will help you with your nerves. You can also have someone else present in the room, such as a friend or family member, for moral support.
  • The best time for a cervical screening to occur is in the middle of our menstrual cycle – approximately 14 days after your last period – as this gives the best specimen. If possible, try to book your appointment during this time.
  • Do not have vaginal penetrative sexual intercourse 24 hours before your screening as sperm, spermicidal gel and lubricants can make it difficult to obtain a good cell sample from the cervix.
  • If you have been prescribed vaginal pessaries to treat and infection, then please postpone your screening for at least a week after the treatment has finished.
  • If you are using a vaginal oestrogen cream, do not apply it the day of your screening and for two days prior to it.
  • Do not douche or use a tampon for at least 2 days, or the day of, your screening


To book an appointment, use our online booking form, email our reception team at reception@your.gp or call us on 0131 225 5656.

We’re here for you when you need us.

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