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A smear test (cervical screening) is when the health of the cervix (the opening to the womb from the vagina) is checked.  A sample of cells is taken form the cervix to look for abnormal cell changes. Abnormal cell changes if left untreated can lead to cancerous cells, which can potentially lead to cervical cancer.

Human Papilloma Virus or HPV is a group of viruses that infect the skin and cells lining the inside of the body. Some types of HPV can lead to cell changes in the cervix which can then lead to cancerous changes.

The UK National Screening Committee has recently changed its guidance and now recommends that patients should receive a high risk HPV (HR-HPV) screening before smear testing.  At present, the sample is taken in the same way as a smear test.

The changes have come about because a randomised controlled trial has shown that HR-HPV is more sensitive than cytology (examination of cells under a microscope) at picking up potentially precancerous changes.  So this is now thought to be  better protection against cervical cancer.

Once you’ve have had your screening test, if HPV is shown as negative,  no further testing is needed at the time and your doctor will recommend when to have repeat screen. 

However, if HPV results come back positive (HPV is found), then cytology is performed on the sample to determine why the results are abnormal. 

If cytology is abnormal, the recommendation is that those patients will be referred for colposcopy.  Colposcopy is when the cervix can be looked at in more detail and samples can be taken from any abnormal areas and treatment can then be given if necessary.

These changes have come into effect in most private practices and in some areas of the NHS.

HPV vaccine is currently offered to girls aged between 12 and 13 years on the NHS, and in now some areas the vaccine is also being offered to boys.  If the vaccine is missed you can still speak to your doctor about getting a vaccine. 

To learn more about health screening, or to arrange a HPV test please contact the London General Practice on 0207 935 1000, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, or email info@thelondongeneralpractice.com