What Should I know About Cervical Cancer Screening

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

There are over 3,000 cases of cervical cancer reported each year in the UK. That’s almost nine every day. According to Cancer Research UK, 99.8% of all cervical cancer cases are entirely preventable.

Cervical screening is a way of monitoring for any changes in the cervix, which, if left untreated, could become cancerous.

This week we celebrate Cervical Screening Awareness Week, in support of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust to support the campaign we take a closer look at what cervical cancer is, the symptoms, what is involved during a cervical screening and why attending these appointments is so important.


What is cervical cancer?

The cervix is part of the female reproductive system that connects the lower part of the uterus (womb) to the top of the vagina.

When cells in the lining of the cervix grow uncontrolled, it can lead to cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is most common in those under the age of 45.


What causes cervical cancer?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost all cervical cancer cases are linked to high-risk papillomaviruses (HPV).

HPV is a common virus transmitted through sexual contact. Although most infections with HPV resolve on their own, persistent infection can cause cervical cancer.


What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening is one of the most effective ways to prevent cervical cancer from developing and is estimated to save at least 2,000 lives in the UK every year.

All people with a cervix between the age of 25 and 64 will be invited by their doctor for cervical screening every three to five years.

Also known as a smear test, cervical screening involves taking a sample of a few cells from your cervix and examining them for any abnormalities or pre-cancerous changes.

If abnormalities are found, it does not mean you have cancer, but you may need treatment to remove them or have more regular screening to monitor for further changes.

The HPV vaccine is now offered to girls and boys aged 11 to 13 in the UK to help protect against some risk types of HPV. However, as the vaccine does not protect against all HPV types, cervical screening will still be required when they turn 25.


What happens at a cervical screening?

Although many people feel nervous about having a cervical screening, it is a simple test that takes no more than five minutes.

You are usually asked to book your screening on a day you do not have your period to help make it easier to get a sample.

A nurse or doctor will perform the screening and explain to you what will happen so you have time to ask any questions you may have.

You will be given some privacy and asked to remove your underwear and clothes from the waist down. You will be given a paper sheet to cover your hip area.

You will then be asked to lie on your back on a bed and bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet together so that your knees fall out to the side. If this is difficult, you can also lie on your side in the same position.

Then, the nurse or doctor will gently slide a small plastic speculum into your vagina so they can see your cervix. Although this may feel uncomfortable, it shouldn’t be painful.

Your nurse will then use a soft brush to take a sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. The speculum will then be removed, and the test is over.

The sample will then be sent to a laboratory for examination, and you will be informed of the results in due course.


Tips for your cervical screening

It is normal to feel nervous or perhaps embarrassed during a cervical screening as the test involves an area of your body that is usually kept private. However, there are a few things you can do to help you feel more comfortable and relaxed:

  • Take a friend or loved one with you to your appointment. If this is not possible, you can ask your doctor or nurse to provide a chaperone to help you feel more comfortable.
  • You can specify if you’d rather have a male or female practitioner.
  • Talk to the nurse or doctor before the test, ask them any questions you may have and let them know if you’re feeling nervous so they can provide reassurance.
  • Deep breathing can help relax your muscles which can make the test more comfortable for you.
  • If you wear a skirt or dress to the appointment, you’ll be able to keep it on and only remove your underwear, which may help you feel more comfortable.
  • Ask for a smaller speculum if you’ve had any difficulty previously.


Symptoms of cervical cancer

Some people with cervical cancer will not display any symptoms at all, however, the most common symptoms to be aware of are:

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding, such as after sex or between periods
  • Pain or discomfort during sex
  • Changes to vaginal discharge
  • Pain in your pelvis (area between your hip bones)

It’s important to know that having any of these symptoms does not mean you have cervical cancer, however, early diagnosis is key, so keep up to date with your cervical screenings, and if you do notice any of the above, schedule a check-up with your doctor as soon as possible.

At Ramsay Health Care, we understand early diagnosis and treatment are vital to prevent cancers from developing, which is why we offer a range of cancer screening tests. Including cervical, bowel, breast, and prostate. You can find out more about the tests we offer, including fees and how to book an appointment here.



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