'Smear tests' are an essential part of preventing cervical cancer, but what is it and what can you do?

Cervical cancer develops in a woman's cervix and mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45.

A 'smear test' isn't a test for cancer but is the main way of preventing anything in the future. It looks for abnormal cells that could potentially turn into something more sinister.

If caught early enough, usually a cervical abnormality can be treated quickly.

So what is a smear test?

All women with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 will be sent a letter from their GP informing them that it is time to be tested.

During the screening appointment, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix.

The sample is tested for changes to the cells of your cervix.

Finding abnormal changes early means they can be monitored or treated so they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.

You'll get your results by letter, usually in about two weeks.

What does a cervical screening look for?

Abnormal cell changes in your cervix

HPV, some types of HPV can lead to cell changes in your cervix and cancer, which is Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a very common group of viruses.

You can get it from any kind of skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, not just from penetrative sex.

Most people will get some type of HPV during their lives.

What happens at the actual screening?

You'll need to undress, behind a screen, from the waist down. You'll be given a sheet to put over you.

The nurse will ask you to lie back on a bed, usually with your legs bent, feet together and knees apart. Sometimes you may need to change position during the test.

They'll gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina. A small amount of lubricant should be used.

The nurse will open the speculum so they can see your cervix.

Using a soft brush, they'll take a small sample of cells from your cervix.

The nurse will close and remove the speculum and leave you to get dressed.

If you are at all worried then you should get in touch with your GP and get seen as soon as possible.