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Don’t fear your smear: The importance of cervical screening

Main image 23 March, 2019

Cervical screening recently hit the headlines when it was revealed the number of women attending these potentially life-saving checks had hit a 20-year low. This is most alarming, especially when many believed we were making real progress in this area. For example, just 10 years ago we saw a substantial increase in the number of women undergoing cervical screening as a direct result of the publicity following the untimely death of TV celebrity, Jade Goody, from cervical cancer aged just 27. But it would appear the message has somehow been lost in the past decade and much more needs to be done to improve attendance rates.

So we’re hoping to do our bit by breaking down the barriers of this topic and addressing your most common questions in this full and frank discussion.

What is cervical screening?
Frequently referred to as a smear test, cervical screening is a vital preventative test that can identify potentially harmful cells before they have a chance to develop into cancer.

How serious is cervical cancer?
Every day in the UK, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three women lose their lives to the disease.

Who is most likely to be affected by cervical cancer?
Whilst it is possible (although extremely rare) for women under 25 to develop cervical cancer, the condition usually affects sexually active women between the ages of 30 and 45. However, all women are capable of developing it.

Who should attend a cervical screening?
All women in Scotland aged 25 to 64 are invited for cervical screening. Women aged 25 to 49 are invited every three years, and women aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years.

How effective is cervical screening?
75% of cervical cancers can be prevented by regular cervical screening.

What actually happens during cervical screening?

  • You will be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on your back on an examination bed.
  • You will be asked by the doctor or nurse to bend your knees, keeping your ankles together and then let your knees fall to the sides naturally.
  • A sterilised medical instrument, called a speculum, will then be inserted into your vagina. These come in several sizes so if you feel the need to ask for a different size, you may do so.
  • The speculum will then be gently opened to hold the vaginal walls open so that the cervix is visible. A specially designed brush will then be inserted to collect cells from the cervix. The whole procedure takes no more than a few minutes and although it may be a little uncomfortable, it shouldn’t cause you any pain.
  • Once the sample has been taken, it will be sent to a laboratory and results will be available within 2-3 working days.

When is the best time to book a cervical screening appointment?

  • The best time is in the middle of your menstrual cycle – approximately 14 days after your last period – as this gives the best specimen. If possible, try to book your appointment during this time as it is important that no menstrual blood is present on the day of your test.
  • Do not have vaginal penetrative sexual intercourse 24 hours before your screening as sperm, spermicidal gel and lubricants can make it difficult to obtain a good cell sample from the cervix.
  • If you have been prescribed vaginal pessaries to treat an infection, postpone your screening for at least a week after the treatment has finished.
  • If you are using a vaginal oestrogen cream, do not apply it the day of your screening and for 2 days prior to it.
  • Do not use a tampon for at least 2 days before your screening.

What happens if the results of my test indicate the presence of abnormal cells?
Most women will receive test results that show that everything is normal, but for approximately 1 in 20 women, the test will show some abnormal changes in the cervix. For the most part, these changes won’t lead to cervical cancer and may revert back to normal on their own. However, sometimes the abnormal cells need to be removed as they are at a high risk of becoming cancerous.

Why should I have my cervical screening at YourGP?
Many women say they feel embarrassed about this procedure but our doctors and nurses are here to help you feel as comfortable as possible. That’s why we offer longer appointment times if necessary so you can take your time to talk through any worries in a relaxed environment. You can also have someone else present in the room, such as a friend or family member, for moral support if you prefer.

How much does it cost?
Cervical screening at YourGP costs £170 with our Practice Nurse and £205 with our Specialist Doctor.

If you have any other questions about cervical screening, feel free to call us on 0131 225 5656 or email reception@your.gp and our doctors will be happy to assist you. Cervical screening should never become a taboo subject. Talk about it openly with family and friends and encourage others to get checked regularly. That little nudge you give them could just save their life.

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