Have you booked your cervical screening?

By Dr Suma Kuna, MacMillan GP and Clinical lead for Cancer and Palliative care for NHS Warrington Clinical Commissioning Group

About 2,500 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in England each year but research states that a quarter of these can be prevented with regular cervical screening tests, also known as smear tests. As its Cervical Screening Awareness Week (14 – 20 June 2021), I want to highlight the facts about screening to people in Warrington and help ease any fears anyone may have about having the test.

What is cervical cancer?

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by a group of viruses called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). It is a very common virus which spreads from close skin to skin contact during sexual activity and most people get the virus at some point in their life. The virus can stay very low in the body for a long time without being detected or causing any changes to the cells in the cervix.  

But sometimes they can cause the cells to grow abnormal, especially the high-grade virus. Often these abnormal cells will be cleared by your body’s own immunity, but occasionally they can develop into cancer. Most of the time, women or people with a cervix do not experience any symptoms with the presence of HPV or with early cell changes and hence the need for a screening test.  

What does cervical screening do? 

Cervical screening aims to detect the presence of the virus and the changes in the cells in those early stages thus preventing cancer. 

The test involves using a soft brush to take a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. The sample is put into a small plastic container and sent to a laboratory. It is tested for the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. If you have a negative result for the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, your risk of cervical cancer is very low and there is no need to check for abnormal cells. 

If you have a positive result for HPV, the sample will be checked for abnormal cells. Abnormal cells are not cancer, but they could develop into cancer if left untreated. Hence you will be sent for further examination called a colposcopy to look at your cervix more closely. If abnormal cells are found during colposcopy you will be offered a treatment for the cells to be removed.  

What happens at the test?

The appointment time can vary between 15 and 20 minutes but the actual procedure takes about only two to three minutes. 

You can also find a really useful guide and video which describes the process of cervical screening and how it's done at www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-screening/what-happens-at-your-appointment

If you have any anxieties, concerns or further questions you can discuss this with your practice nurse or GP. 

Who can get a cervical screening test?

Currently In England, women and people with a cervix aged between 25 to 49 years are offered the screening test every three years and for those aged 50 to 64 years , they are offered the test every five years. 

When you have the invitation, it is very easy to book an appointment by contacting your medical centre.

In England, cervical screening currently prevents 70% of cervical cancer deaths. If everyone attended screening regularly, 83% could be prevented. 

What are the symptoms?

Finally, make sure you know the symptoms of cervical cancer.

Please remember, cervical screening is not 100% effective. HPV infection or minor cell changes can be missed out and abnormal cells can develop and turn to cancer between screening tests. 

Screening is for people with no symptoms. You must consult your GP If you develop any symptoms which could suggest a possibility of cervical cancer such as   

  • Bleeding between your periods, during or after sex, or after the menopause  
  • Changes to vaginal discharge.

For more information about cervical screening or cervical cancer visit nhs.uk or jostrust.org.uk.