The cervix is the medical term for the neck of the womb. A cervical smear allows examination of the cells of the cervix. It’s designed to pick up minor changes in the cells of the cervix before more serious problems develop.
It usually takes many years for cancer of the cervix to develop, so having regular smears is the best way to catch abnormal results before they develop into cancer.
Abnormal results are not unusual: about one in twelve smears is found to be abnormal. However, most abnormal smears show no more than small changes to the cells of the cervix (reported as borderline changes or mild dyskaryosis). Only very rarely will cancer be found.
In many cases minor changes return to normal without treatment, but sometimes the changes get worse. In such cases further examination is necessary to decide whether treatment is needed. Treatment is simple and virtually 100% effective.
If you have had a borderline or mildly abnormal smear, you should have had your HPV status checked. If you carry a high risk HPV, you should have a colposcopy. If you are high risk HPV negative, you should have a repeat smear in 12 months time.
If you have borderline changes on a smear, your gynaecologist will ask you to return for a repeat smear in six months’ time. If this repeat smear is normal, you will be asked to have one more smear test six to twelve months later to be sure that the cells are still healthy. If they are healthy, you will then go back to receiving routine cervical smears.
If your repeat smear still shows borderline changes or mild dyskaryosis, you may be referred for an examination called colposcopy.
If your smear shows mild, moderate or severe dyskaryosis it is unlikely that you have cancer. However, these changes need to be carefully assessed and you may require treatment. To decide whether you need treatment a colposcopy is carried out to investigate the cervix in detail.