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Smear tests – they’re something many women try not to think about, unless they absolutely have to! But if it has been several years since you last had one, you may not be aware that cervical screening in the UK has changed. Here we explain what those changes are and what this means for you.
What is a smear test?
A smear test, or cervical screening, is designed to check the health of your cervix. More specifically, its aim is to detect any abnormal cells known as Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia (CIN) that have the potential to develop into cancer.
Every day in the UK, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three women lose their lives to the disease, so the smear test is a vital preventative test that can literally save lives.
What does a smear test involve?
A sterilised medical instrument, called a speculum, is inserted into the vagina. The speculum is gently opened to hold the vaginal walls open so that the cervix is visible. A small, specially designed brush is then inserted to collect cells from the cervix.
The whole procedure takes no more than a few minutes and although it may be a little uncomfortable, it shouldn’t cause any pain.
How have smear tests changed?
In March 2020, changes were made to the Scottish cervical screening programme. Whilst prior to this date, the primary test involved cervical cytology (looking at cells under a microscope), the new approach is to instead test for HPV (human papillomavirus) first.
Why were these changes made?
HPV testing is a more sensitive and effective test for identifying those who are at risk of
cervical cancer, meaning any changes are found and treated earlier.
What happens after a smear test?
The sample of cervical cells is sent off to a laboratory for testing. If no high-risk HPV is found in the sample, the patient will not be called for a smear test for another 5 years. This is because the risk of developing cervical cancer within 5 years is very low – it usually takes around 10 to 15 years for cancer to develop after an HPV infection.
If high-risk HPV is found in the sample, the sample will then be used for cytology-based tests. Around 1 in 100 women will have precancerous changes highlighted in a cervical smear, which will require further treatment. Should any abnormal cells be detected, your doctor will inform you of the results and the recommended next steps.
How does this alter the smear test experience?
It is important to note that although the cervical cell samples will now be tested differently, the smear test experience for patients will not change at all.
How are smear tests at YourGP different?
Here at YourGP, we offer extended appointments to ensure your experience is calm and unrushed, giving you ample to time to relax and ask any questions you might have. We find that giving patients time to sit, take a few deep breaths, and prepare for their smear test without feeling hurried can make all the difference to their experience, and is especially beneficial to those who feel anxious about the test.
We also offer a fast turnaround of results – once the test has been carried out, the sample will be sent to a laboratory and results will be available within just 2-3 working days.
How else can I protect myself against cervical cancer?
Smear tests are a highly effective way of detecting HPV before cancerous cells have a chance to develop. Another way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated. The Gardasil 9 vaccine, for example, can be given to both males and females aged 9-27. It works best when given before they have contracted HPV, therefore before they have become sexually active.
Book your appointment
To book an appointment for a smear test, or a Gardasil 9 vaccine, just email our reception team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0131 225 5656.
Needed to arrange an offshore medical fairly quickly and they fitted me in the same day. The entire experience from initial enquiry to consultation was first class! I would highly recommend YourGP in Edinburgh to anyone looking for superb service and professional healthcare. I will certainly be using them from now on.