Early testing can help prevent the development of Cervical cancer.
Latest figures show less than three-quarters of women invited for cervical screening take it up. Cancer Research UK believes this is part of the reason why cervical cancer still affects over 3 000 women each year.
Cervical screening is a very important test for early detection of cancer of the cervix. Early testing can help prevent the development of cancer. Women in the UK are invited for screening between the ages of 25 to 65 years of age.
Cervical screening (smear test) checks the health of the cervix. The cervix is part of the female reproductive system and is the opening to the womb from the vagina.
At the cervical screening appointment, a doctor or nurse will take a sample of cells from the cervix using a small soft brush. The sample is tested for a virus called high risk human papilloma virus (HR-HPV).
HPV is a group of viruses. Some types of HPV can lead to cell changes in the cervix which can then lead to cancerous changes.
Once you have your screening test, if the HPV is negative, no further testing will be needed at that time and the doctor will recommend when to schedule a repeat screening. It is unlikely you will develop cell changes or cervical cancer without having HPV.
If HPV is found (positive results), then cytology is performed on the sample. This looks for abnormal cell changes. If the cells look normal then usually a repeat HR-HPV test will be recommended in 6-12 months.
If abnormal cell changes are found, those patients may be referred for a colposcopy. A Colposcopy is an examination where the cervix can be looked at in more detail, further samples can be taken of any abnormal areas and treatment given if necessary.
Many cell changes go away on their own, but some may develop into cancer, a colposcopy helps identify which may need treatment.
There is a vaccine against HPV and is currently offered to girls and boys from the age of 12 on the NHS, and can also be given in private clinics. If the vaccine is missed you can still speak to your doctor about getting one.
The vaccine aims to stop you getting some types of the HPV virus. It is still recommended that you continue to have smear tests if you are vaccinated as it does not protect against all types of high risk HPV.
Cervical screening should not be delayed. It is one of the best ways to protect yourself against cervical cancer.
Dr Angela Rai,
MBBS, BSc, MRCGP, DCH, DRCOG, Dip Cardiology
The London General Practice