MYTH: Lesbians don’t need smear tests.
FACT: Lesbian and bisexual women are at as much risk of cervical cancer as any other woman and do need regular smear tests.
What is a smear test?
A smear test is sometimes also called a cervical smear. Samples of cells are taken from the neck of your womb (cervix). These are checked to make sure they are not abnormal. A smear test does not look for cancers; it looks for changes in the cells that may lead to cancer developing. Every woman over 25 should test regularly and automatic reminders are sent by your GP every three years. For women between 50 and 64 your GP will send out reminders every 5 years.
Who needs one?
Every woman in the UK over the age of 25 years should have regular testing. Just because your partners are always or sometimes women does not mean that you don’t need to have the test.
Where can I get the test?
If you are registered with a GP surgery you will automatically be reminded every three years and you can get the test done there by a Dr or practice nurse or you could attend a sexual health clinic instead.
How often do I need to have a test?
Every woman over 25 is offered a test every three years and women between 50 and 64 are offered tests every 5 years. If you have had a previous test that showed changes you may be offered more frequent smears, but each time you receive a result it will tell you what should happen next and when.
Why have I been asked to go back for a repeat test?
Sometimes there have not been enough cells collected at the first test or perhaps your sample has shown a low grade abnormality.
From April 2012 however a new test will be introduced so for those tests that show a low grade abnormalitya test for HPV* is done immidiately on your sample without asking you to come back in to provide a second sample. If this second test is negative for HPV you will be recommended to return for 3 or 5 yearly smears, depending on your age.
*HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus, is a viral infection spread through skin to skin sexual contact. HPV is a group of over 100 different viruses, and some of these strains can lead to different types of cancer, including cervical cancer.
What happens if my test result is abnormal?
If your sample is low grade abnormal a second test for HPV will immidiately be run on your sample. This will either be negative or positive. If negative you will simply be recommended to return every 3 or 5 years, depending on your age. If the sample is positive you will be referred to a ‘colposcopy clinic’.
If your sample is high grade abnormal they will not test for HPV but simply refer you directly to colposcopy.
What happens at a colposcopy clinic?
Much the same as when you had your smear test taken but the appointment will take longer. The doctor will use a magnifying camera to look more closely at the neck of your womb. The colposcopist may decided that there is no need for a tissue sample or may ask your permission to take some further samples of the cells and tissues on the neck of your womb. Alternatively if the coposcopist suspects there is a high grade lesion he/she may offer you treatment then and there.
Taking samples of tissue can be a little uncomfortable and you will experience a small amount of bleeding afterwards. This is normal because the neck of the womb has a very good blood supply. You will be asked to return to the clinic to get results of the tests.
Check out this new publication on smear tests from the Lesbian and Gay Foundation:
'Are you ready for your screen test?'
For more information and support follow these links:
Womens Health Concern on Cervical Cancer
NHS leaflet on cervical screening for Lesbian and Bisexual women