If you’ve never had a smear test, it’s natural to feel nervous about getting in the stirrups for the first time.
But according to Cancer Research UK, 99.8% of cervical cancer cases are preventable – so while it might feel daunting, don’t let the fear put you off having one.
We ask Dr Stephanie Ooi from MyHealthcare Clinic, who specialises in women’s health and paediatric care, to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about smear tests, including whether it’s possible to have one while you’re on your period, when pregnant and how it feels.
Here’s what we found out.
Can you have a smear test on your period?
Short answer: yes, but it’s not recommended.
‘It is best not to have your smear test done during your period,’ says Dr Ooi.
‘This is because it can make it difficult to get a good sample of cells and it may need to be repeated again.
‘It is best to book your smear test during the middle of your cycle around 14 days after the start of your last period. It can be difficult to find a date and time that works well for you but this guidance is to give yourself the best chance for an adequate sample to be taken.
‘The test is done by taking a small sample of cells from the cervix, which is the entrance of the womb, to test for abnormal cells. Abnormal changes are caused by high risk forms of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
‘HPV is the name for a family of common viruses that are passed on through skin-to-skin contact. Most abnormalities won’t cause problems but sometimes the abnormal cells have to be removed so they don’t become cancerous.’
Not all HPV viruses lead to cancer; there are more than 200 variations, 40 of which concern your genitals and 13 of those can cause cancer.
‘Genital HPV can be passed on through skin-to-skin contact of the genitals,’ adds Dr Ooi.
‘It is very difficult to prevent HPV. Using a condom is advised but skin-to-skin contact of genitals may still occur in some cases.
‘A HPV vaccine is available to all girls aged 12 and 13 as part of their routine childhood vaccinations. However, you must still attend for a test as the vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV which have been linked to cervical cancer.’
Can I have a smear test if I’m pregnant?
It’s best to hold off for three months after you’ve given birth – but update your doctor of the situation either way.
‘You do not need to wait for a letter inviting you again, ring your GP to check,’ says Dr Ooi.
‘If you are pregnant and are due a test but have had abnormalities before or missed previous tests then please discuss this with your GP.’
Who can get a smear test?
You’ll receive your first invitation for a smear test around six months before your 25th birthday. If you haven’t received a letter by the age of 25, contact your local GP.
Make sure to update your address if you move, too, so that you don’t miss a reminder.
From then onward, you’ll be invited back every few years as per NHS’s screening programme, when you are:
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