When it comes to our health, we all know that we often leave things until it’s too late. We’re busy with work, kids, other commitments and life gets in the way. Every now and then the topic of smear tests will pop up across the groups. As there’s lot of you who had questions about what to expect, and lots of you who have never had a smear test – we got the experts at CervicalCheck to answer some of your questions. If you haven’t booked your smear test, consider this your reminder to get it scheduled and in your calendar. You can find a local GP or clinic that will carry out a smear test here. For now, lets hear from the experts.
Q&A with CervicalCheck
1) How often should a smear test be gotten?
This depends on your age – if you are between 25 and 44 you should have a cervical screening test every three years. If you are 45 years of age, or over, and have had two normal test results three years apart you should be tested every five years.
2) What is the inaccuracy rate of a smear test in Ireland?
Cervical screening aims to identify women who may have changes in the cells of the cervix, which over time could develop into cancer. The test does not in itself make a diagnosis. It helps to select women for further investigation (called colposcopy) to see if treatment is needed or not. Not all women with a positive screening test result will need treatment. Sometimes the test detects changes due to a transient viral infection – changes which will get better by themselves over time.
On the other hand the test sometimes does not detect underlying changes. There are a number of reasons for this. Cells which may not have been sampled or were obscured by other cells. Sometimes abnormal cells can look like normal cells, and sometimes abnormal cells are simply not seen. This is why cervical screening tests should be repeated regularly to maximize the chance that any significant changes will be detected. In addition, it is really important that women who have symptoms, such as abnormal bleeding, are checked out by a gynaecologist.
3) What other factors can contribute to ‘abnormal’ test results rather than just pre-cancerous or cancerous cells?
Sometimes the test detects changes due to a transient viral infection – changes which will clear up by themselves over time. The presence of other infections or changes due to the lack of oestrogen in post-menopausal women can make the interpretation of cervical cell changes difficult.
4) Can the scraping of the cervix to conduct a smear test in fact contribute to abnormal cells, and if not why not?
The removal of cells as part of a cervical screening test does not cause lasting effects on the cervix. Abnormal cells are due largely to changes caused by an infection with a variant of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
5) How is the surgery on ‘possible abnormal cells’ like in the case above funded? Is it Health insurance or state funded or other?
If there is uncertainty whether a woman may need treatment, she is referred for a procedure called a colposocopy. This involves shining a bright light and a microscope at the cervix to identify any areas of abnormality. A sample of tissue called a biopsy may be taken – usually under local anaesthetic. If treatment is required this may involve removal of a small portion of the cervix under local anaesthetic.
There are fifteen CervicalCheck colposcopy (outpatient) clinics nationwide. All tests and investigations carried out in these fifteen colposcopy clinics are state funded to all women.
6) How many of these surgeries are carried out on ‘possible’ abnormal cells per year? And do these tend to lead to surgeries on definitely abnormal cells in the same clients?
On average, 16,500 women are seen for the first time at CervicalCheck colposcopy services each year. The majority of these women do not require treatment. Between 4,000 and 6,000 treatments are carried out each year across the fifteen services.
We’re SUPER thankful that the team over at CervicalCheck took the time to answer these questions that GirlCrew Dublin sent in. If you’ve any further questions, please make sure that you talk to your GP or qualified healthcare professional. There’s lots of misinformation out there. While we still have you, consider this a second reminder to book your test now!