Why do I need a smear test?
Regular smear tests (also called pap tests) are the main way of detecting infection with Human Papilloma Virus, or the HPV virus. The tests help to prevent cervical cancer by detecting abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancerous.
All women who are, or have been, sexually active are at risk of contracting the virus. The Irish Cervical Screening programme recommends that all women between the ages of 25 and 60 should have regular smear tests.
Infections rarely show symptoms and while most clear up naturally, some do persist and actually develop into cervical cancer. That's why even if you have a cervical cancer vaccine; smear tests should continue to be an essential part of your cervical cancer protection.
What is cervical cancer and what causes it?
The cervix is the end of the narrow neck of the uterus (or womb). Cervical cancer involves the uncontrolled growth of the cells that make up the cervix. However, the early signs of cervical cancer respond well to treatment.
In most cases cervical cancer is caused by a reduced immune response to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are over 100 different types of HPV viruses, between 15 and 30 can cause cancer. Two types of the virus, HPV 16 & HPV 18, are the two most common causes of cervical cancer which are responsible for 70% of all cervical cancer cases.
How is the smear test done?
A smear test is very fast and simple to do. You'll be asked to lie on your side or back for the smear. The doctor will gently insert a speculum into your vagina to hold it open. The doctor will use a small brush to gently remove a sample of cells from the cervix. The sample is sent to the laboratory to be checked.
Does a smear test hurt and are there any risks?
While a smear test may seem a little undignified and embarrassing, it shouldn't cause any pain and there are no risks involved.
How do I get a smear test?
You can get a smear test at your local G.P. surgery or at any screening clinics, such as Charter Medical Group. A nurse is usually the person who performs this test but you can ask for your doctor if that's what you would prefer. A smear test can also be part of a health screen.
When is the best time to have a smear test?
The best time to have a cervical smear test is mid-cycle or about 2 weeks after your period.
How much does a smear test cost?
At a G.P. surgery you can expect to pay between €65 and €75 for a smear test.
The options to have a smear test in Charter Medical are:
- Free of charge if the patient is registered with www.Cervicalcheck.ie and has a confirmation letter from them. The results are back in 4-5 weeks.
- €90.00 if the patient is having a routine smear test, for which the results will be back in 3-5 weeks’ time.
- €120.00 if the patient is having an urgent smear test, for which the results are back in 7 working days.
Smear test follow up
If your smear test is normal it is recommended that you have a follow up test within 3 years. Otherwise your doctor will advise you on when to have another test.
What if your smear test is abnormal?
First of all don't panic. Some minor abnormalities may settle and you'll be advised to have a repeat smear. Other abnormalities will need more tests and you may need to attend a colposcopy clinic at the hospital. A colposcopy is an examination of the cervix using a bright light and a microscope. A biopsy or sample of cervical cells may also be taken. During this procedure you will be given suitable treatment if necessary.
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Don't forget that as an Irish Life Health member you can claim money back for a health screen and visits to your doctor if you've a day-to-day plan.