Going for a Smear Test

Invitation for cervical screening

The Regional Screening Office operates a computerised call/recall system.  This ensures that all women who are registered with a GP are invited to attend for a smear test at least once every three or five years.  The first invitation will be sent out just prior to a woman’s 25th birthday and every three years thereafter until 49. Women from the age of 50-64, will be invited once every five years. 

When a woman receives a letter asking her to make an appointment for a smear test, she can choose where to have the smear taken. 

In Northern Ireland the majority of smear tests are carried out at a Primary Care setting i.e. a GP surgery or Health Centre.  Smear tests can also be carried out at a Family Planning or community cytology clinic.  A woman can ask to have her smear test taken by a female doctor or nurse if she prefers.

Women who are not registered with a GP will not receive an invitation from the Regional Screening Office but can go to a Family Planning clinic and request a smear test at any time. 

Women who have not had a recent smear test may be offered one when they attend their GP or Family Planning or community cytology clinic with regard to another matter.   A smear test may be carried out at colposcopy as part of the assessment process.   The smear taker must ensure that women are provided with enough information to give informed consent for the smear test to be carried out and be aware of the benefits and limitations of screening.  Every effort should be made to ensure the environment in which the smear test is taken is acceptable to the woman.

What is a smear test?

A smear test can spot abnormal cells, which if left untreated, might turn into cervical cancer.  It is not a test for cancer itself.  (click on the leaflet below to open it)

You will need to undress from your waist down, so if you’ve got a skirt on, just lift it up. You’ll not be exposed, you’ll always have some couch roll as a ‘modesty cover’. You’ll be asked to lie down with your knees gently falling apart. The speculum is put into your vagina and opened so that the sample-taker can see your cervix. The nurse or doctor will use a small, very soft brush to take the cell sample. The brush goes around and sweeps the cervix five times to remove the cells from the surface of the cervix. It’s very quick and for most women, it’s absolutely fine. The results of the test will be sent to you in the post and they aim to have the results back to you in 2 weeks.

Changes to the smear test

With the introduction of Liquid Based Cytology there has been little difference to the way a smear test is carried out. Instead of a wooden spatula, the smear taker uses a small brush.  The main difference has been fewer inadequate smear tests, so fewer women require a second or repeat smear test.  This should be good news as repeated tests are inconvenient and can cause some anxiety.