CERVICAL SCREENING: WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
CERVICAL SCREENING AWARENESS WEEK
It is Cervical Screening Awareness Week (14th – 20th June 2021). As 99.8% of Cervical Cancer cases are preventable in the UK, it is crucial to raise awareness of how critical regular testing is to save lives and to make care and testing easily accessible and convenient. Cervical screening (also referred to as a smear test) checks the health of your cervix, which is the opening to your womb from your vagina. Cervical screening is a health test that helps prevent cervical cancer. It checks for a virus called high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) and, if you have HPV, cervical cell changes (abnormal cells). Anybody with a cervix aged 25 to 64 should be invited by letter for their cervical screening.
WHAT IS HPV?
HPV is the name of a very common group of viruses. They do not cause any problems in most people, but some types can cause cancer. Many types of HPV affect the mouth, throat, or genital area. You can get HPV from:
- any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area.
- vaginal, anal, or oral sex
- sharing sex toys
HPV has no symptoms, so you may not know if you have it. It is so common that most people will get some type of HPV in their life.
High Risk HPV is the causative factor for cervical cancer, however having HPV does not mean a person will develop cervical cancer (or for that matter any ill-effects from it). High risk HPV are the strains of HPV that have the potential to cause cervical (and/or vaginal/vulva etc.) cancer. Low risk HPV has the potential to cause genital warts.
Sometimes HPV infections are not successfully controlled by your immune system. When a high-risk HPV infection persists for many years, it can lead to cell changes that, if untreated, may get worse over time and become cancer.
Infection with high-risk HPV does not usually cause symptoms. While precancerous lesions at other sites in the body may cause symptoms like itching or bleeding, the precancerous cell changes caused by a persistent HPV infection at the cervix rarely cause symptoms. This is why regular cervical cancer screening is important.
Although an HPV infection itself cannot be treated, there are treatments for the precancerous cell changes caused by infection with high-risk HPV. Most women who have precancerous cervical cell changes are treated with the loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), which is a method to remove the abnormal tissue.
CERVICAL SCREENING APPOINTMENT: WHAT TO EXPECT
- During the screening appointment, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix.
- The sample is checked for high risk HPV that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix.
- If these types of HPV are not found, you do not need any further tests.
- However, if these types of HPV are found, the sample is then checked for any changes in the cells of your cervix. These can then be treated before they get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.
- You will get your results by letter, usually 2 weeks after your appointment, this will explain what next steps are necessary for you.
- It is normal to experience light bleeding or spotting for a few hours after a cervical screening. You might like to bring a sanitary towel or panty liner with you just in case (some GPs also have these on hand). If the bleeding is very heavy or lasts longer than 24 hours, contact your GP.
TIPS TO MAKE YOUR APPOINMENT EASIER
- Talk to your nurse or doctor before your appointment, especially if it is your first cervical screening or you are nervous.
- Book the first appointment of the day. This way the waiting room will be less busy and you will have/ less time to feel anxious.
- Book a longer appointment. This gives you more time to talk to your doctor or nurse and ask any questions you may have.
- Wear a skirt or dress if you feel comfortable doing so. This will make you feel less exposed during the appointment.
- Ask to try a different size speculum if it is uncomfortable or painful.
- Check what the coronavirus protocols at your GP are and how they might impact your appointment.
HOW CAN DOCTORS CLINIC GROUP HELP?
You can book a private cervical screening with one of our doctors at a time and date that suits you and your schedule at any of our private GP clinics.
We are here to support women in every stage of their life, from menstrual and pregnancy advice to menopause support and guidance we are proud to offer a wide range of women's health services. We have female doctors across our London clinics. Some of our private GP’s specialise in women’s health so a specialist is always on hand.