This year, Cervical Cancer Screening Awareness Week will take place on 14th to 20th June.
Raising awareness about screening for cervical cancer is now more important than ever, as many thousands of women have missed routine smear tests during the pandemic.
We all know that smear tests are not the most enjoyable experience. It might be tempting, having missed one, just to wait until the next one rolls around. However, it is important to remember that five minutes of discomfort could well save your life.
So, what specifically is being looked for in a cervical cancer screening?
HPV – human papillomavirus
A smear test is essentially looking for signs of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is a very common virus that is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact. This is most often during sexual intercourse.
It is so common that if you are sexually active the chances are you will get it at some point in your life. Even if you don’t have many sexual partners. It can present as genital warts, or it can be symptomless.
HPV itself doesn’t always lead to health problems, but in some instances it can lead to cancers. These are most commonly of the cervix, anus or throat.
So if my smear test finds HPV, does that mean I have cancer?
Not necessarily! If you are having regular smear tests, then an HPV infection picked up during screening should still be in the early stages. Even if it does have the potential to cause cervical cancer, it should have been caught early enough that it doesn’t present a major health threat.
What happens if an HPV infection is found?
If an HPV infection is found, the samples from your smear test will be sent for further testing. This is to check for any changes in the cells of your cervix, which could be an early indicator of cervical cancer.
Who should have a smear test?
Any sexually active, premenopausal woman should have a regular smear test, although screening is no longer available on the NHS for women aged 18-25. Cervical cancer is most prevalent in women aged 30-45.
It is recommended that you avoid having a smear test during your period, or if you are pregnant or have recently given birth.
Where can I go for my smear test?
Smear tests for women aged 25 and over are now being routinely carried out on the NHS again. However, there may be some backlog due to previous lockdown restrictions.
If you prefer to bypass the waiting list, or if you are aged below 25 and are concerned about cervical cancer, we can offer a private screening service here at SureScan Women’s Health Clinic. For more information, please contact us to book an appointment.