DIY Smear Tests: A Good Idea?

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This is a collaborative post.

On 24th February 2021, the NHS announced that – as part of a trial – 31,000 women in London were to be offered DIY smear tests to check for early warnings of cervical cancer. During the pandemic, traditional smear tests at local GP surgeries experienced significant delays. In fact, about 600,000 tests failed to go ahead in the UK last April and May, in addition to a backlog of 1.5 million appointments missed annually.

It was these delays that prompted many cervical cancer charities to speak out and suggest at-home screening tests for women.

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What Is A Smear Test?

A smear test, also referred to as cervical screening, is a simple test to help prevent cervical cancer by checking the health of your cervix. The cervix is the internal opening to your womb from your vagina.

During the test, a small sample of cells is taken from your cervix and checked for certain types of HPV (human papillomavirus) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. If these types of HPV are not found, you won’t need further testing until your next routine appointment is due. If these types of HPV cells are found, they can be treated accordingly.

All women with a cervix aged 25 to 64 are invited for a smear test, usually by letter, however these ages may differ in countries other than England.

What Stops Women Going For Smear Tests?

In the North West, most women visit their local GP, nurse or gynaecologist in Manchester, Merseyside of Cheshire for their smear test. However, a lot of women still choose not to go for their smear test for a variety of reasons.

For some, it may come down to cultural barriers, whereas with others, it can be down to sheer embarrassment or ‘horror stories’ they may have heard from their friends.

Why Is A Smear Test So Important?

A smear test is important as it is performed to prevent cervical cancer. Without a smear test, abnormal cells may go unnoticed and could develop into something more serious and ultimately, fatal.

Smear tests are free on the NHS and surprisingly to most, a smear test is incredibly quick and painless.

How Does A DIY Smear Test Work?

An ‘at home’ smear test involves swabbing inside your vagina using a long, thin cotton but to take a sample. Once complete, the swab will then be sent for post for testing. This simple and convenient swab means it can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home. If the sample tests positive for HPV, then you will be invited to your local GP for a standard smear test for a closer examination.

Unfortunately, many women still don’t attend their routine smear test appointment and without regular screening, they are at the highest risk of developing cervical cancer. The NHS hopes to make cervical screening an easier, more comfortable experience for all so that a larger proportion of women are protected from a mostly preventable cancer.

If you have recently received a letter inviting you for your routine smear test, or if you have missed previous appointments and are concerned about attending in the future, make sure you do. Cervical screening is quick, painless and ultimately, life saving.

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