Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (17 - 23 January 2022) - why it's important to get screened despite Omicron wave

‘People invited for their cervical screening are encouraged to attend, even during the pandemic.’

That is the key message from Dr Debbie Harvey, Merseyside GP and Primary Care Lead for Cheshire & Merseyside Cancer Alliance, who is reminding people that free NHS cervical screening – previously called a smear test – is a really effective way to reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer.

One in three women and people with a cervix do not attend cervical screening and there is evidence to show that the number of tests have declined during the pandemic.

During this Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, Dr Harvey explains that robust infection control measures are in place for screenings, so people attending should be reassured around the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

She said: “It is so important that people go for their cervical screening appointment when they are invited. The test is a really effective way to pick up Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and any early pre-cancerous changes, which if left could lead to cervical cancer developing.

“The NHS cervical screening programme saves thousands of lives every year in the UK. When people have their screening, staff follow strict guidance on infection control to ensure a high level of protection from COVID-19.‘’

People who qualify for cervical screening receive an invitation by letter every three years if they are aged between 25 and 49, and then every five years until the age of 64.

Most people’s test results are normal, but if not, detecting HPV or finding early cell changes can make any preventative treatment easier and more successful, much of the time preventing cancer from developing at all.

Liverpool Cancer Screening Care co-ordinator Nicky Murphy echoed Dr Harvey’s message. She promotes cancer screening at Aintree Primary Care Network, supporting people to take part in checks and giving people with particular challenges help in accessing these vital tests.

Nicky said: “We are still screening, despite COVID. During the pandemic, fewer people have been attending for cervical screening, which is concerning as people are missing out on preventative measures and treatment which will reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer.

“Cervical cancer is found anywhere in the cervix and it can often be prevented by attending screening, which aims to find and treat changes to cells before they turn into cancer.

“Appointments for screening are still available at your GP surgery and sexual health clinics. Safety measures are in place for your protection when you attend for your appointment, so don’t put it off – book your screening appointment.”

For more information about cervical cancer screening, see https://www.jostrust.org.uk/information/cervical-screening or https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-screening/