A smear test, sometimes called a Pap Test, checks to see if your cervix is healthy. It isn’t a test for cancer, but it does help prevent cancer by taking a sample of cells to look for early changes in the cells of the cervix. If such changes are not found and treated, these cells could become cancer cells.
All women between the ages of 25 and 60, who are or have been sexually active, should have regular smear tests. Lesbian and bisexual women should have regular smear tests also. You should have a smear test even if you are not sexually active now. Women younger than 25, who are sexually active, should also have regular smear tests.
Every year, about 180 women in Ireland are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Smear tests help identify changes to the cells of the cervix. If these changes are not found and treated they could become cancer cells. Regular smear tests help prevent cervical cancer. For more information on cervical cancer, call the Irish Cancer Society National Cancer Helpline free on 1800 200 700 or visit www.cancer.ie
You should have a regular smear test every 3 – 5 years.
The Irish Cervical Screening Programme (ICSP) offers a free smear test every 5 years to any woman aged between 25 and 60. Visit the ICSP website or freephone 1800 252 600 to register with the ICSP or to find out where you can have your free smear test done.
If you are not eligible for the Cervical Screening Programme there are a number of ways you can get a smear test done:
The best time to go for your smear test is mid-cycle – that is 10 to 14 days after the first day of your last period (if you are having periods).
If you are aged between 25 and 60, you can have a free smear test done every 5 years through the ICSP (see above). If you are under 25 or over 60, check with your local GP, family planning clinic or Well Woman clinic. Medical card holders can have a smear test done by their GP or Practice Nurse for a small fee.
The test is short, often taking less than 5 minutes, and is usually done by a doctor or a nurse. A sample of cells is taken from the skin that covers the cervix using a small brush. These cells are later checked for any changes that could turn them into cancer cells.
Your cervix is found at the lower part of your womb (uterus) at the top of your vagina. A small opening in the cervix leads into the main part of your womb. Sperm can pass through this opening after unprotected vaginal sex, and menstrual blood flows through there during your monthly period.