Cervical screenings, also known as smear tests, are a vital aspect of healthcare for people with a cervix, playing a crucial role in early detection and prevention of cervical cancer. In the United Kingdom, the NHS offers cervical screenings to ages 25-64, as part of its commitment to promoting preventive healthcare. In this blog post, we'll explore why cervical screenings are important, when and how often they are recommended, what to expect during the procedure, and the significance of regular screenings in maintaining your health.
Why Should I Get a Cervical Screening?
Cervical cancer is largely preventable, and cervical screenings are a key tool in achieving this prevention. These tests aim to detect any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, namely looking for a virus known as human papillomavirus (HPV). Over 90% of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV. Early detection allows for timely intervention, significantly improving the chances of successful treatment.
When to Get Screened:
In the UK, cervical screenings are offered to people with cervix’s aged 25 to 64. The screening schedule begins with the first test at age 25 and continues every three years until the age of 49. From ages 50 to 64, women are advised to undergo screenings every five years. It's important to attend screenings regularly, as this ensures that any potential issues are identified and addressed promptly.
Cervical screenings are relatively straightforward and are conducted by trained healthcare professionals, often a nurse or doctor. Here's what typically happens during a cervical screening:
- You will receive an invitation letter from the NHS roughly 6 months before your 25th birthday letting you know you are due for a screening.
- Following the invitation, you can book an appointment at a local screening clinic or with your GP. It's advisable to choose a time when you are not on your period, as this might affect the accuracy of the test.
- During the test, the healthcare professional will ask you to undress from the waist down and lie on an examination bed. A small amount of lube is then applied to a plastic speculum which is then gently inserted into the vagina to provide access to the cervix. This can be uncomfortable for some as it’s a new sensation, but it’s done very quickly and is nothing to worry about.
- Using a small brush, the healthcare professional collects a sample of cells from the cervix. This only takes a few seconds. This sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
- You can expect to receive your results between 1-4 weeks, although there’s always the possibility of delays. The majority of results come back normal, but in cases where abnormalities are detected, further investigations or treatment may be recommended.
The Importance of Regular Screenings:
Regular cervical screenings are essential for maintaining your health and preventing the development of cervical cancer. Detecting abnormalities early allows for more effective intervention, often preventing the progression to cancer altogether. It's crucial to attend screenings as recommended by the NHS, even if you feel healthy, as cervical cancer often presents with no symptoms in its early stages.
If you're due for a cervical screening, don't hesitate—book that appointment and prioritise your health today.