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Fetal Medicine - Blog - Cervical Screening and Cervical Cancer

All about cervical screening and cervical cancer

All About Cervical Screening and Cervical Cancer with Dr Penman, Consultant Fetal Medicine Specialist in Kent

According to Cancer Research, there are an average of 3197 cases of cervical cancer each year in the UK. Cervical cancer is most frequently found in 30-34-year-olds.

Cervical screening is not a test for cervical cancer, but rather a test for cells that can lead to cancer. It’s important to have regular cervical screening so you have the best chance of detecting these pre-cancerous cells and treat them early. In this article, we’ll outline cervical cancer and its symptoms. We’ll also discuss cervical screening, how often you should have it and why. We’ll cover the following topics:

Only have 1 minute? Here are 5 takeaways about cervical cancer and cervical screening

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

There are a number of symptoms associated with cervical cancer. However, these symptoms can vary from person to person, and also be caused by other conditions. If in doubt, it’s best to consult your doctor for further advice and testing.

  • abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual
  • bleeding after intercourse
  • increased vaginal discharge
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • bleeding after menopause
  • unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain

This NHS link has more information on cervical cancer and its symptoms.

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening (or a cervical/pap smear) is a method of finding abnormal cells on the cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). Cervical screening is not a test for cervical cancer, but rather a test for cells that can lead to cancer.

What happens at my cervical screening appointment?

When you arrive at the hospital, you will be welcomed by a member of the hospital staff who will check you in and let Dr. Penman know you have arrived. The time you have booked for your appointment is the time you will be seen – there are no waiting times when you book to see Dr. Penman privately.

Dr. Penman will come to greet you and show you to the clinic room where he will ask you for any personal details relevant to the appointment and take the cervical sample.

Before your sample is taken, you’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on a bed. A speculum will be gently inserted into your vagina and holds the walls of the vagina open. A soft brush will then be inserted to collect some cells from the surface of your cervix. The appointment takes around 15 minutes. The taking of the sample is less than 1 minute. If you wish, you may have a friend or relative present.

How often should I have a cervical screening test?

Every 3 years, if you are sexually active and over 20 years.

Under 20 years, generally the virus that is thought to cause cervical changes, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), is transient and the body is capable of clearing it. It is the persistence of this virus that leads to the changes in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. You are, of course, welcome to have a cervical screening test as often as you wish, but you shouldn’t have one when you’re on your period.

When will I know my test result

Within 10 days, when you have your cervical screening test with Dr. Penman. If there are any details that require discussion, Dr. Penman will ring you. He will discuss the findings with you and potentially recommend any further treatment.

What if my test result is abnormal?

Approximately 1 in 20 cervical screening tests show cervical changes. The majority will not lead to cancer as the cells will return to normal over time. However, in some cases, the cells will remain abnormal and require treatment to ensure that they do not become cancerous. Should your test show abnormal results, Dr. Penman will advise you and arrange further treatment if required.