Cervical Screening: Why it is so important

Cervical SmearBooking your smear test can stay on the ‘to do list forever (I know the feeling)!! Managing time off work, getting an appointment and making sure it isn’t that ‘time of the month’ makes it one of those things you just keep meaning to do…. But ladies it is FINALLY time, and here are the reasons why…

Cervical cancer is the number one cancer in women under the age of 35. In 2011 there were 3,064 new cases diagnosed in the UK making it the 12th most common cancer affecting women.

By going for your smear tests regularly, the majority of new cases can be prevented. Between the ages of 25-49 you will be invited for a smear test every 3 years and between 50 and 65 every 5 years.

The cervical screening test is not a test for cancer, it is looking for abnormal cells which can range from being mildly abnormal all the way through to cancerous The idea of screening is that we catch any abnormal cells early, and treat them, so we can prevent them from going on to develop in to cancer.

It works, the number of people diagnosed with cervical cancer has almost halved in the last 20 years since screening was introduced in 1988. But 22% of women in the UK still don’t go for their smears.

It is an intimate examination, but don’t let this put you off. It is a routine examination that we do all the time. Your doctor or nurse will use a speculum to visualize the cervix, this can be a little bit uncomfortable, but shouldn’t be painful. We then use a brush to sweep off cells from the area and send them to the lab for analysis. The whole procedure shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes.

If you are all clear, you will be asked to come back in 3 years, If abnormal cells are found, don’t panic, it doesn’t always mean the worst! You might be referred for a colposcopy so that we can look at these cells more closely. These abnormal cells can either be monitored (sometimes they change back by themselves) or removed depending on what stage they are at.

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) significantly increases your risk of getting cervical cancer. HPV is transmitted by sexual contact, and having multiple sexual partners can increase your risk. A vaccination against certain strains of HPV has been developed and is now being given routinely as part of the childhood immunization schedule at 12-13 years of age.

Whether you have had a smear or not – I have listed the important symptoms to look out for below and if you have any of them you must see your doctor immediately:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding – either in between periods or bleeding after sex 
  • Bleeding after you have been through the menopause
  • Smelly or blood stained vaginal discharge
  • Pain during sex

If caught early, the chances of survival are excellent. So pick up the phone and book that smear…!