Sunday, June 5, 2016
Cervical screening is offered to women in the UK as a way of identifying abnormal changes to cells in the lining of the cervix and preventing the risk of advanced cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer screening is one of many tests available on the NHS to identify serious health problems before they become catastrophic. This type of screening is proven to be an effective method for reducing the number of cervical cancer cases in the UK, but the test is one that many women fail to attend.
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer itself - it is actually a way of preventing cancer – the test looks at changes in the cells of the cervix (neck of the womb). If these changes are left untreated, they can develop into cervical cancer. Screening for these changes involves a test known to most women as a smear, which involves taking cells from the outer layer of the cervix. These are then sent away for analysis and checked for any abnormalities. Changes are often caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) - this is a common virus but in some forms is high risk for the development of cancerous cells.
The smear test is a simple process, but some women find themselves embarrassed and uneasy about the procedure. Being relaxed and calm does make the process easier. If it’s your first time, it’s important to remember that the test doesn’t last long and your nurse, doctor or another health professional will have carried out this test many times before and will try their best to make the procedure as quick and easy as possible.
The actual smear test usually takes 5 minutes. Your nurse or doctor will ask you to remove your underwear and lie down on a couch so that they can carry out the test.
Often, you’ll be offered a blanket or paper wrap to cover yourself. You will be asked to lie with your knees drawn up and spread apart. If this is uncomfortable, you can ask your health professional if it’s possible to lie on your side with your knees drawn up.
Your doctor or nurse will then insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina. This makes it easier to see the cervix more clearly. They will then take a soft swab and gently scrape the outer layer of the cervix to obtain cells, which are placed in a special liquid and sent to a lab for analysis. The screening test should not cause you any pain, but it may feel slightly uncomfortable.
Cervical screening is beneficial to all women to ensure any changes are caught early. If your smear test finds cells with abnormalities, there is an option to have these removed so that they do not turn into cancerous cells. According to the NHS, cervical screening prevents around 5000 cases of cervical cancer a year.
Although the benefits outweigh the risks, there are some disadvantages to having the cervical screening test. In some cases, the test can cause mild discomfort and embarrassment for the patient. In other cases, cells with abnormalities can correct themselves naturally, meaning that some women may go through treatment that is unnecessary. Women should also be aware that some of the procedures used to remove abnormal cells from the womb could increase the risk of giving birth prematurely in future pregnancies.
You need to be registered with your GP to be invited for screening. Cervical screening is on offer to all women aged 25-65 years old, with women aged 25-49 being invited for the test every 3 years and women ages 50-64 every five years. Cervical cancer most commonly affects women ages 30-45 that are sexually active.
Cervical cancer can affect women of all ages, but changes in the cervix are very common in young women and cervical cancer in women under 25 is extremely rare; women under 25 are not invited for screening as it could lead to unnecessary treatment.
Results of a cervical screening are sent in the post, typically within two weeks of your appointment. Whilst it’s important to know that results are not 100% accurate, they are pretty close. In some cases, false results have been given. It’s important to remember that a small number of tests will be inaccurate, which is why it’s essential to be tested regularly.
If abnormal cells are discovered, then you will be referred for a colposcopy for further investigation and necessary treatment. If your screening also shows a positive indication of the HPV virus, you will also be referred for further investigation.
Although the process can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, cervical screening offers a real benefit to many women and goes a long way toward preventing cervical cancer.
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