Having a regular smear test is not a test for cancer, it's a test to help prevent cancer.
A National Cervical Screening Programme called Cervical Check which is funded by the government is available in Ireland for free to all women aged between 25 and 60 years.
A smear test tests for cell changes on the wall of the cervix and is the best way to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix and is one of the most preventable cancers in women.
At present, there is no vaccination to prevent cervical cancer but there is a vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus spread through sexual contact and the most common cause of cervical cancer and is offered to all secondary school children.
When should you have a smear test?
Depending on your age, women should have a smear test done every 3 to 5 years. Women aged 25 to 44 need a smear test every three years while women aged between 45-60 require a smear every five years.
However, based on previous cervical screening tests you may have more frequent tests but this is only if you need extra monitoring.
How can I check when my next smear test is due?
In Ireland, you can find out when your next smear test is due by entering your PPS number and date of birth on www.cervicalcheck.ie. If your details are not on the register, you can apply to be part of the screening programme.
Where can I have a smear test?
If you are due a smear test, you can opt to have a free examination with any registered doctor or nurse. CervicalCheck has over 4,500 doctors and nurses in GP practices, Women's Health, Family Planning and Well Woman Clinics nationwide. To find a GP or clinic simply freephone CervicalCheck on 1800 454 555.
What can I expect during my smear test?
A smear test appointment usually takes no longer than fifteen minutes, with the test itself lasting around 3-5 minutes.
During your smear test, a doctor or nurse will give you a consent form to fill in before giving a private space to undress from the waist down before asking you to lie on an examination bed.
The doctor or nurse will insert a speculum (a plastic cylinder medical tool to hold the vagina open) into your vagina. In most cases, they may use a small amount of lubricant to help make the examination more comfortable for you.
From here, they will gently open the speculum so they can see your cervix. The nurse or doctor will use a soft brush with a long handle to take some samples of cells from inside your cervix before putting them into a vial of liquid. This liquid will preserve the cells so they can be sent to a lab for testing.
Then the nurse will remove the speculum from your vagina, you can get dressed and you're done. It's that simple. However, after a smear test, some women may have light spotting for a day or two - it is recommended that you bring a panty liner.
How will I get my results?
Two laboratory experts will examine your test sample and once it is complete they will send the results to your GP or chosen clinic.
If abnormalities show up you may need a follow-up appointment and if your appointment is normal you will not need another smear for 3 or 5 years, depending on your age.