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What happens during a smear test?

Regular smear tests could save your life


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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The smear test is a method of screening that detects pre-cancerous changes in the cervix (the neck of the womb). That means the test will show up any abnormal changes that could lead to cancer of the cervix.

What does the smear test detect?

A smear test can detect changes very early on, at a pre-cancerous stage. Cervical cancer can take 10-15 years to develop, making it a very preventable disease. After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer found in women in Ireland. Every year about 200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer.

It’s recommended that women, or trans men with a cervix, start having regular smear tests (every 3 years ) from age 25 upwards. When you have your first smear test you’ll need to return for a second test three years later as part of the Cervical Check programme.

What happens during a smear test?

  • The doctor or nurse asks you to take off your clothes from the waist down
  • If you feel uncomfortable or nervous, talk to your doctor
  • If you normally have a male doctor, you can ask for a female doctor for the smear test
  • You lie on your back with your knees bent and legs open
  • The doctor or nurse inserts a speculum (a medical tool that holds the vagina open) into the vagina so that the cervix can be seen.
  • You’ll feel some pressure from the speculum, but it shouldn’t hurt
  • The doctor or nurse will use a small, specialised broom to gently brush off a sample of cells from the cervix. This sample is sent to the laboratory to be checked.
  • The whole thing can feel uncomfortable but not painful. The more you relax, the less painful it’s likely to be.

Getting an appointment

The CervicalCheck appointment is free of charge to women from 25 onwards. It covers the smear test, however other examination or medical checks asked for or done at the same time of this appointment may incur a charge, so have a chat with your doctor or nurse. 

Learn more about getting your first cervical screening here.

CervicalCheck is a free service that provides free smear tests to women from 25 onwards. For more information on cervical cancer and the link to human papillomavirus, the free smear testing process and lots more check out CervicalCheck.ie or freephone 1800 45 45 55.

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Published Jan­u­ary 3rd2013
Last updated July 5th2018
Tags health women's health smear test
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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