A quick summary:
Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women under 35 with two women in the UK dying from the disease every day.
Regular cervical screening appointments can prevent up to 75% of instances of cervical cancer, saving 5000 lives per year. Despite this, many women are reluctant to have their smear test done with a quarter of women not responding to their screening invitation.
Cervical Screening Awareness Week (14th-19th June) was created to highlight these shocking statistics and the importance of regular cervical screening for women's health.
A recent survey by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that one in eight women (12%) have delayed their cervical screening appointment due to COVID-19. It’s more important than ever that we’re discussing the part cervical screening plays in ultimately saving lives.
What happens at a cervical screening appointment?
Heka’s Brand Manager Em popped into her local clinic for her smear test last week, here’s a quick rundown of her experience.
I made sure to book the first appointment of the day so I didn’t have to hang around nervously to be seen! One of the lovely nurses called me into a room and gave me some space to get changed.
The nurse took a sample of cells from my cervix using a small, soft brush. This felt a bit strange but wasn’t painful. The test only took a few seconds.
It’s quite common to tense up at this stage, so it can be helpful to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and think positive thoughts!
The nurse then put the sample of cells into a small plastic container (vial) of liquid so they could be sent to a lab for testing.
And that’s it! My nurse gave me a chance to get dressed and told me to expect the results within a few weeks.
I was surprised at how quick and painless the experience was. My main advice would be to relax! I practised some breathing techniques and listened to some chilled music before my appointment to help ease the nerves.
How often should you have a smear test?
It’s advised to get a cervical screening test every 3 years when you’re between the age of 24.5 – 49 years and every 5 years from 50 – 64 years. If there are any abnormal cells found during the test, people are usually asked to attend more frequently (every 6 months – 1 year.)
Understanding cervical screening results
You’ll receive a letter with your results usually between 2-6 weeks after your appointment. If you don’t get a letter within the timeframe your GP surgery gave you, feel free to give them a call for an update.
If there’s a delay try not to worry it doesn't mean that there is anything wrong, most people will have a normal result.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is not found in your sample: Most people will have an HPV negative result.
This means your risk of getting cervical cancer is very low. You won’t need any further tests to check for abnormal cervical cells (even if you had these in the past) and you’ll be invited for screening again in 3 or 5 years.
HPV is found in your sample: If HPV is found in your sample your results the letter will explain exactly what happens next.
You may need another cervical screening test in 1 year or different testing to look at your cervix (a colposcopy).
There are 2 types of positive HPV results:
HPV found - but no abnormal cells: In this case, you’ll usually be invited for screening again in 1 year.
HPV found - and abnormal cells found: In this case, you’ll most likely be asked to have a colposcopy.
If you feel worried about going for cervical screening, you are not alone. It may help to know as much as possible about what going for cervical screening is like. You could ask someone you trust about their experience, speak with your nurse or doctor, or call Jo’s Trust free Helpline on 0808 802 8000 for more support.
- Jo's Trust also has an online forum, where you can get and give support.
- My Body Back run screening clinics for victims of sexual violence.
- NHS cervical screening information.
- Bupa cervical screening information.