In medical terms, a "smear" usually refers to a cervical smear. During reproductive years, and following menopause, females should undergo regular smears to ensure that they are not developing cervical or endometrial cancer.

The smear is a simple, although not particularly comfortable, test. The cervix enters into the top of the vagina and so, a special spatula (like a specially shaped orange stick) is inserted into the vagina, and the end is rubbed in a circular fashion on the surface of the cervix.

The spatula is then withdrawn and is smeared onto a glass microscope slide - hence the name of the whole test. A special fixing solution is immediately sprayed onto the smear sample on the glass slide which is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

At the laboratory, the smear is examined under a microscope. Abnormal cells can be identified and so can some infections.

Although, due to the anatomy of where the cervix is, the smear test is intimate and can be embarrassing, it is highly effective at picking up changes in the cervix and saves countless lives every year by identifying people at risk of cervical cancer before it has become too far advanced.

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