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At what age should women start having smear tests?

It’s estimated that more than three-quarters of all cervical cancer diagnoses could be prevented if women regularly attended their smear tests.

Having a smear test is simple, quick and could save your life. In a push to amplify this message, Public Health England (PHE) launched a Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign, in response to the news that the number of women in the UK attending their smear test appointments is at an all-time low.

Our focus is on your health. Along with looking at how we can encourage women to have regular smear tests comes another question:

 

 

Should the age limit for first smear tests be lower?

Recent news stories like this – about a woman diagnosed with cervical cancer before being invited to her first smear test – seem to suggest that it’s time for an age rethink. If smear tests were offered to women earlier, could potential problems be identified, monitored and – if needed – treated, to help prevent cervical cancer?

 

When are women in the UK offered their first smear test? 

In the UK you’ll be offered cervical screening (smear tests) by the NHS from the age of 25.

It’s fairly rare for women under the age of 25 to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. And some health professionals believe that many cell abnormalities identified in a cervical screening would not be problematic, and doing something about them might in fact be detrimental to a woman’s health as it would potentially cause problems with the cervix.

 

So are there benefits to having a smear test below the age of 25?

If you’ve been sexually active for more than two years, you’ll be more susceptible to having the HPV virus. It’s a very common virus (almost all women will have it at some point in their lives), so it’s nothing to be alarmed about. And it usually disappears without the need for treatment.

However, all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Therefore, if your smear test shows any cell abnormalities or you test positive for HPV, a gynaecologist will be able to assess whether the HPV is high or low risk, and talk about next steps.  

 

So having regular smear tests is a bit like going for a dental check up? 

Exactly. For example, you shouldn’t wait for toothache before you head to your dentist. You go as a way of maintaining your dental health, and to check that there are no potential issues that need looking at, or treating. In the same way, a smear test is a sensible way of keeping on top of your gynaecological health.  

 

Can I request a smear test if I’m younger than 25? 

Yes. In our private clinic, our gynaecologists will assess your medical history to determine whether they feel cervical screening is appropriate, whatever your age.   

 

What does a smear test involve? 

Most women find the idea of a smear test more uncomfortable than the actual experience. At our clinic, we want to ensure that you feel as relaxed as possible during your appointment.

A gynaecologist will put a speculum (a cylinder with a rounded end) inside your vagina. Once in place, the gynaecologist will carefully open the speculum so they have a good view of your cervix. Then they’ll use a soft brush to take a sample of cells from your cervix. It’s done quickly, with a focus on keeping you comfortable throughout.

 

And what happens if I receive an abnormal smear test?

If you have a private smear test in our London clinic and you are contacted because of any abnormalities, try not to worry. Abnormal smears are more common than you might think. After explaining your results, your gynaecologist will then talk with you about what should happen next.

Your cervix may simply require regular monitoring. Or your gynaecologist may invite you to have a colposcopy to take a closer look.

 

 

How can I arrange a smear test?

Smear Tests are always carried out by a Consultant Gynaecologist at our clinic. If you’d like to learn more or make an appointment, please contact our clinic.