In your twenties, it’s easy to feel invincible health-wise. If you’re fit and healthy, many feel that checkups can be left on the back burner, but one that shouldn’t be put off is your smear test. Getting regular cervical checks is crucial for the early detection of changes in the cervix, which, if left undetected, can lead to cervical cancer.
In Ireland, once you turn 25, you are eligible for a free cervical screening from Cervical-Check. You may receive an invitation letter, but you don’t need to wait for this; simply go along to any doctor or nurse registered with the Cervical-Check Programme. Following your first cervical screening test with the programme, you will receive regular invitations to go for screening until you are at least 60 years of age.
Why Are Regular Smear Tests So Important?
Around 300 women in Ireland are diagnosed with cancer of the cervix each year (after breast cancer, it is the second most common cancer in Europe) so regular smear tests are hugely important because you don’t usually have symptoms when you have abnormal changes in the cells of your cervix; the only way to detect these changes is via a smear test which could save your life as symptoms may not appear until the cancer has reached an advanced stage.
Who Should Have A Smear Test?
Every woman between 25 and 60 should have regular smear tests, whether they’re single or married, have sex with men or women, have had the HPV vaccine, have stopped having babies or are post-menopausal. If you have never been sexually active, the chances of developing cancer of the cervix are low (over 99% of all cases of cervical cancer are linked to the HPV virus, which is spread via sexual intercourse), though you should get one if you’ve been sexually active in the past.
How Often Should Women Have A Smear Test?
If you’re between 25 and 44 years of age, you should have a smear test every three years. If you’re between 45 and 60 years of age, you should have a smear test every five years.
How Long Does A Smear Test Take?
The test, carried out by a doctor or nurse, should only take around 10 minutes and may be uncomfortable (but not painful) and remember to talk to your practitioner beforehand if you’re feeling anxious or have any concerns.
What Happens If The Results Come Back Abnormal?
First of all, don’t panic. The test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix and these changes can be either low grade or high grade. Low grade changes are common and most of these can, over time, clear on their own. If low grade changes are found, your smear test sample will have also been tested for the various types of HPV that are associated with cervical cancer. If HPV is then found, a more detailed examination of your cervix is needed (known as a colposcopy). But the good news is, if picked up early, changes in the cells of the cervix are easily treatable and when done, can prevent cancer developing.
For more information or to check when your next smear test is due, see CervicalCheck.ie