Don’t fear the smear

Monday, January 29th, 2018

cervical smear

This week is European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week – This piece on cervical screening and cervical smear tests will be the first in a series of women’s health promotion and information blogs. I will also share some of my own experiences both as a nurse and as a patient! This will hopefully encourage you to have conversations about health between you and your friends and family.

Some Facts:

  • There is an average of 300 cases of Cervical Cancer each year in Ireland.
  • In 2014, 95 women died of Cervical Cancer
  • Cervical cells change slowly and take many years to develop into cancer cells, this makes cervical cancer a preventable disease.
  • In 2014/2015 there were 8,717 women that had biopsies (samples of their cells tested for disease) taken for cervical smear tests that had cell changes.
  • 151 of these women had cancer (1.8%)
  • 6,832 of these women had “early cell changes” or “pre-cancerous” cells that were treatable (78.4%)
  • This shows that cell changes are common – and are treatable. Smear tests pick up these cells while they are treatable. Without your cervical smear test check those cells could develop into something more serious such as cancer.

Smear tests can save your life.

I recall when I got my ‘invitation letter’ for my cervical smear test. I was 25 and working as a nurse. Firstly, being a nurse didn’t spare my ignorance on this topic. I also knew that it was a screening test for cervical cancer and this was as far as my knowledge went. I read the information leaflet that came with my invite letter and put it to one side. It wasn’t until I got my ‘final reminder’ letter that I actually contacted my GP practice to make an appointment. I was close to if not already 26. Why did I put it off? Two reasons: 1. I thought that I had to have it done in my local GP practice, this is not the case. 2. Honestly, I didn’t realise that it was so important.

What is a Cervical Smear?

For those of you that don’t know, a cervical smear test (pap test) or cervical screening test is an examination of a woman’s cervix (area at the entrance to the womb) where a sample of cells are taken (using a very soft brush – see pictures!) and placed in a pot of liquid fluid and sent to the lab to be tested/checked. We are checking for “abnormal” “irregular” or “not normal” cells, these are very common and when picked up early can be monitored/treated if necessary. This test is done by inserting a plastic instrument called a speculum (I know the terminology is encouraging in itself!) into the vagina in order to check out the cervix.

cervical smear tools

The test is quick, it only takes a few minutes and is not meant to be painful. Sometimes it can take a bit longer, this is because the cervix is quite mobile and can move around (this is normal). People can experience a little  discomfort and this is usually if there a vaginal infection such as thrush present. It is no problem to stop a smear test if you feel uncomfortable and it can be done at a different time when any infection has been treated and cleared.

See its not so scary!

The Cervical Check website has all the information you may need in relation to cervical screening and cervical smear tests in Ireland and all their research is based on international best practice and research combined with their own research since the programme began.

Check out when your next cervical smear test is due here. If you are 25 or over and have never had a smear test in Ireland and you have a PPS number – don’t delay, you are entitled to a free smear test and can make an appointment straight away. You don’t need to wait for a letter from cervical check.

Once you have checked the date for your next smear – you can book your appointment with us online. If you cannot see a time that suits, please call us on 016579044

We also offer a swab to check for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea which is included in your free smear.

Remember, don’t fear the smear – It could save your life!

Basic Information

Cervical Check is the national cervical screening programme in Ireland. It offers FREE screening (cervical smear tests) to all women aged between 25-60 living in Ireland. (Note, you must have a PPS Number to avail of the test)

  • You must attend for a cervical smear test every 3 years from aged 25-44 and every 5 years from aged 45-60. These are the current guidelines, these may change in the future due to ongoing research
  • The cells in the cervix are constantly changing throughout our lives, the aim of cervical screening is to pick up on these cell changes early so that they can be monitored or treated and not develop into anything serious.
  • The cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil (read more on also offers protection against the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer but it is still important to have regular smear tests even if you have had this vaccine.The ideal time to have your smear test is in the middle of your menstrual cycle, however once you are not bleeding on the day of the test then it can be done
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses – there are more than 100 different types. Some types of HPV can cause cell changes in the cervix.
  • Most women who have HPV do not develop cervical cancer. If you have an ABNORMAL smear, the lab will check to see if you have HPV.
  • HPV is very common and most of the time our bodies clear it itself. It is difficult to prevent the spread of HPV (usually spread by skin to skin contact during sexual activity).
  • Smoking makes it harder for the body to clear HPV so if you smoke, stop.
  • The HPV vaccine can protect against the common types of HPV that cause cell changes in the cervix. See for more information
  • Regular cervical smear tests means that any cell changes are found as early as possible and are easier to treat!
  • Based on research and evidence to date, there is no public health benefit to doing smear tests on women under the age of 25 – this is because screening under 25 may lead to women receiving unnecessary treatment for lesions that would never have developed into invasive cancer.  However, it is important for all women of any age to present to their GP for investigation if they are having any irregular bleeding, bleeding after sex, bleeding between periods or any lower stomach or pelvic pain that is unexplained.
  • You don’t have to have your smear test done by your own GP/nurse, you can have it done anywhere that there is a registered smear taker.

Book your appointment with us online


written by Gemma Keogh