All women over 25 are invited to come for a smear test. It is so important to have this free, painless test, because it shows changes in the cervix, or neck of the womb, which can lead to cancer. It is an early detection process and the only National Screening undertaken for women’s cancer.
Cervical cancer, which is the type of cancer the smear is looking for, is often associated with the HPV virus, or Human Papilloma virus. This virus can be carried on the penis and in the vagina of anyone who is sexually active. The presence of the HPV virus can lead to changes which can lead to cancer.
Having the smear test will show if any changes are taking place, usually the changes are so early that very little needs to be done, but you would have to be followed up more regularly to look out for changes and offered treatment before they become a problem.
The smear test does not show the other cancers which can occur-and cancer can occur anywhere in the pants area:- the vulva, the fallopian tube, the womb, the ovary.
So far, there is no national screening programme for changes in all these other areas. Staff who undertake smear tests should routinely ask you questions about your health which might suggest that you are at risk of other cancers.
See the details on the PANTS website for the other cancers, and their signs and symptoms.
You should not arrange your appointment when your period is due, but mid way through your cycle. The smear test itself takes a few moments. The nurse will ask you to remove your pants and lie on the couch. A speculum will be inserted into the vagina- the same place where tampons are inserted. A brush will collect the cells and they are sent off to the laboratory where an expert will examine them and decide if the cells look as they should. You will know all is ok within a week or two. If there is concern, you may have to go back for another test.
The chances are that everything will be normal. If you want to help avoid getting this type of cancer, practice safe sex and give up smoking.