The Importance of Cervical Screening

Posted: 06/04/2022

Cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer seen in females in the UK, with around 3,200 women being diagnosed with the illness every year. It is most diagnosed in women between the ages of 30-45 and is detected when abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix grow in an uncontrolled way. Warning signs of cervical cancer can be detected and treated before they progress into cancer so regular screening for women is vital.

With routine screening on the NHS only being offered every 3 to 5 years, book a private cervical screening or home HPV test today to give you more regular peace of mind.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by an infection from one of the high-risk strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is detected in 99% of cervical cancers and the subtypes HPV-16 and HPV-18 account for over two thirds of cases. HPV is very easy to catch, has no symptoms and is spread by skin-to-skin contact of the genital area.

Most people will get a strain of HPV at some point in their lives and in around 90% of cases, will cause no problems and will resolve on its own. Around 10% of HPV infections will become persistent, putting women at risk of developing abnormal changes to cells that can go on to develop into cervical cancer.

Risk factors of progression of abnormal cells to cervical cancer:

  • Having other sexually transmitted infections

  • Multiple sexual partners or a sexual partner who has HPV

  • Early age of first sexual intercourse

  • Smoking

  • Family history of the illness

  • Having more than five full term pregnancies

  • Having a child at a young age (under the age of 17)

  • Having used the combined oral contraceptive pull for longer than five years

  • Having another condition which causes immunocompromise or immunosuppression

Developing Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer usually develops relatively slowly, with the time between HPV infection and the development of pre-cancerous abnormal cells being 1-10 years and the progression to cancer being more than 10 years. It is therefore vital to catch and treat pre-cancerous cells within this time frame.

In an aim to prevent cervical cancer from developing, the NHS offers HPV vaccines to all girls and boys aged 12-13 and routinely screens women over the age of 25 for HPV with the aim to catch and treat the virus before it develops into cancer.

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When To See a GP - Cervical Screening

Cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer. It is estimated that if every woman attended regular screening, 82.9% of cervical cancer deaths could be prevented.

It is recommended that women between the ages of 25 – 64 have a routine cervical screening every five years to test for the HPV virus and detect any abnormal cells before they develop into cancer.

During the cervical screening, also known as a smear test, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix. This can also be done at home as a self test. The sample is sent to be analysed and results are usually back within 7-10 days of the sample arriving at the lab.

If the results come back negative, no HPV was detected in your sample and there is nothing you need to do until your next routine screening. If the results come back positive, this can either mean that HPV was found but no abnormal cells, or both HPV and abnormal cells have been detected. Depending on your result, you will be asked to have more regular screenings, book a follow up appointment with your GP or referred to the hospital for further testing and if required treatment.

Treatment of Abnormal Cells

If your cervical screening results come back positive, you may be required to have a colposcopy. Around 6 in 10 people who have a colposcopy will have abnormal cells which are also referred to as CIN. CIN is not cancer, but some high-grade CIN can go on to develop into cancer, so it is important these cells are removed if required. This is often done using LLETZ as an outpatient under local anaesthetic.

When To See a GP - Worrying Symptoms

While HPV has no symptoms, there are several symptoms of cervical cancer that if you are experiencing should be checked by a doctor. These include:

  • Persistent unexplained vaginal bleeding or discharge

  • Bleeding between periods

  • Bleeding after sex

  • Pelvic pain

  • Pain when having sex

  • Vaginal bleeding after the menopause

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are worried, book an appointment with a GP who will be able to investigate further.

Home HPV Test Kit

Mayfield Clinic’s offers a home HPV test to detect strains of HPV which are identified as high risk in the development of cervical cancer. If you are worried you could have one of these strains of HPV, have received abnormal test results in the past and want to monitor for any changes or regularly have unprotected sex, making you more vulnerable to catching HPV, a home test can help to give you peace of mind or enable you to seek treatment.

The test kit contains a simple cervical swab which you can do at home, instructions on how to carry out the test and a pre-paid returns envelope for you to send your sample to the laboratory for testing. You will receive your results via text message within five working days of posting your sample

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