Your cervical screening questions answered

Dr Davina Deniszczyc Dr Davina Deniszczyc Medical Executive Director, Nuffield Health
For Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, Dr Davina Deniszczyc, Nuffield Health GP and Medical Director for Wellbeing, responds to some frequently asked questions and encourages women to book their cervical screening tests when invited.

Cervical screening saves lives. However huge numbers of young women in the UK are still frequently missing their cervical screening test.

Around 1.2 million women didn’t take up their invitation in 2017 to 2018.* That’s over one in four women that could have made an appointment.**

But it’s estimated that if all eligible women attended their screening regularly, 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented.***

This Cervical Cancer Prevention week, make sure you’re up to date on this lifesaving test.

What is a cervical screening test?

The cervical screening test (also known as a smear test), is used to detect abnormal cell changes in the cervix (dyskaryosis) as well as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – which can lead to cell changes.

In this way, any abnormal cells can be removed before they become cancerous, preventing cervical cancer from developing.

How old do I need to be to have a smear test?

All women over the age of 25 will be invited for a cervical screening test every 3 years up to the age of 49, and women aged 50 to 64 every 5 years.

Even if you haven’t had penetrative sex, you could still be at risk as foreplay can also pass on the HPV virus – so it’s vital to book an appointment.

How do I book a smear test?

To book a free NHS smear test, call your GP and ask to book a cervical screening test with the nurse.

Alternatively, you can book a private smear test. We offer cervical screening tests as part of our 360+, 360 and Female Health Assessment.

When is the best time to have a smear test?

It’s best to go mid-cycle – around a week after your period has ended. However the test can be carried out at any point of the month, apart from during your period.

What does a smear test involve?

The test itself only takes a couple of minutes:

  1. While in the GP’s office you’ll be asked to get on the examination bed
  2. Once you’re comfortable, you’ll need to undress from the waist down, and you’ll be covered by a paper towel
  3. When you’re ready, your GP will insert a speculum into your vagina, allowing them to open it and take a swab from your cervix.

The swab will then be sent off and analysed in a laboratory to look for any abnormal cells.

I’m nervous about my smear test – is there anything I can do to help?

Firstly, there’s no need to be nervous or embarrassed about smear tests. GPs have seen everything before and this is just part of their day job.

Secondly, remember to breathe – focus on taking nice deep inhales and exhales – and keep your legs wide. This will help to relax your pelvic floor.

How long until I get my cervical screening results?

Your GP will send your results by post within 2 weeks. If your letter takes longer than this, don’t worry, you can call your GP surgery to check for any updates.

Once you have your results, you won’t have to do anything until you’re invited for your next smear test.

What happens if I have an abnormal smear test result?

Most smear test results are normal, but up to 5% of tests can return as abnormal. This is nothing to worry about:

  • Usually this is borderline smear test result, so you won’t need treatment
  • Sometimes it means cervical dyskaryosis, which are cell changes in the cervix, and a follow-up colposcopy (similar to a smear test) will be arranged to check further
  • Occasionally the results are inadequate, which means that not enough cells were collected, and you’ll be asked to return for another smear test after around 3 months when the cells have grown back.

Read more about what your cervical screening results mean.

Cervical cancer can be prevented

Whatever the outcome, remember that cervical cancer is one of the only cancers that can be prevented.

However much you dread going, this quick and simple test could be a lifesaver and you should always take advantage of it.

References

*https://phescreening.blog.gov.uk/2019/01/16/cervical-cancer-prevention-week-blog-a-view-from-jos-cer...

**https://www.jostrust.org.uk/professionals/health-professionals/increasing-screening-attendance

***https://www.gov.uk/government/news/phe-launches-cervical-screening-saves-lives-campaign

Last updated Tuesday 14 January 2020