Cervical Screening: Helping You Decide

Posted by: kara - Posted on:

Cervical Screening Awareness Week (19 to 24 June 2023) is just around the corner. Often known as a ‘smear test’, cervical screening helps prevent cervical cancer and at the moment in England, it prevents around 70% of cervical cancer deaths. 

If everyone attended their cervical screening, this number could be increased to 83%. 

Who we offer cervical screening to

Cervical screening is for anyone with a cervix. Screening is offered every three years to individuals aged 25-49 and every five years to those aged 50-64. This is because most cervical cancers develop between these ages. 

You should consider having screening regardless of your sexual orientation, sexual history, or whether you have had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. 

HPV virus 

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is very common and is spread through close skin-to-skin contact during any type of sexual activity. 

HPV often does not cause any symptoms and can stay in the body for many years. In most cases, a person’s immune system gets rid of the virus however sadly, in some cases, this HPV can lead to abnormal cell growth which can develop into cancer. 

Having cervical screening lowers your chances of getting cervical cancer. Screening finds abnormal cells, so they can be removed before they become cancer.

Common myths we hear in general practice 

I’m too young to get cancer.

25–29 year-olds are the least likely to attend routine smear tests yet most likely to have an abnormality detected with 63% pre-cancers being found in this age group.

I’m terrified I’ll find out I’ve got cancerI’d rather not know. 

Screening aims to pick up cancers at an early stage when they are more treatable. Cervical screening also picks up pre-cancerous changes so it actually works to prevent you getting cancer at all. 

It’s too embarrassing.

It’s important to remember that your nurse or doctor has performed hundreds, possibly thousands of smears. If you feel more comfortable with a female doing your smear test, just ask. 

The procedure takes five minutes. Let the nurse or doctor know if you want them to tell you what they’re doing at every step if this makes you more comfortable. 

It hurts.

Your smear should not be painful. If you’re anxious, it can make you tense up more. Let the nurse or doctor know if you’re feeling a bit nervous and they will stop immediately if you’re uncomfortable. 

Smears are often more uncomfortable after the menopause or when vaginal dryness becomes an issue. Give us a ring a few weeks before you attend to discuss this if you’re worried. 

If I develop symptoms of cancer, I can always go then.

Often at this stage, treatment is likely to be much more extensive. Having regular smears aims to combat this at the early stages. 

If you do develop bleeding between periods or after the menopause, or before or during sex, make an appointment to see your GP. 

Read more about cervical screening on the gov.uk website.