The Importance of Cervical Screening

Did you know that last year, nearly a third of women didn’t take up their NHS invite for a cervical screening? There are plenty of reasons why you might not want to come forward – you might be too busy, embarrassed, or perhaps a little bit scared – but it’s really important that you attend regular cervical screenings. That’s because regular testing can diagnose HPV, detect abnormalities and help prevent cervical cancer. 

Let’s take an in-depth look at cervical screenings and the benefits of getting checked regularly. 

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening, also known as a smear test or a PAP test, is a critical part of women’s healthcare. It helps to prevent cervical cancer by checking the cervix for high-risk HPV or abnormalities – which can be early signs of cervical cancer. 

Who should attend a cervical screening?

Women can develop cervical cancer at any age. However, it more commonly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45. Cervical abnormalities are thankfully rare in women under 25, so we usually recommend smear tests every three years for women between the ages of 25 and 50 and then every five years between 50 and 65.

What are the benefits of cervical screening?

Along with the HPV vaccine, cervical screening is the best way to protect against cervical cancer. In fact, it prevents over 7 in 10 diagnoses. Here are the main benefits of cervical screening:

  1. Early detection of abnormalities

Cervical screening aims to detect any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, including precancerous changes. By identifying these abnormalities early on, you can get any care or treatment you need before they advance, reducing the risk of developing cervical cancer.

  1. Identification of high-risk HPV

Cervical screening can detect high-risk strains of HPV, which are the primary cause of cervical cancer. Identifying these high-risk HPV infections means you can run further tests, monitor the infection, and provide appropriate interventions to reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer. 

  1. Increased treatment success rates

When cervical cancer is detected at an early stage through screening, the likelihood of the cancer spreading is reduced, and the chances of successful treatment and cure are significantly higher. 

  1. Peace of mind 

Undergoing regular cervical screenings can provide you with peace of mind and a sense of control over your health. By taking proactive steps to monitor your cervical health, you can feel empowered in your healthcare decisions.

  1. Monitoring overall reproductive health

Cervical screening offers an opportunity to monitor your overall reproductive health. Alongside detecting abnormal cervical cells, the screening process may identify other reproductive health concerns, such as hormonal imbalances, infections, or sexually transmitted infections, allowing for early intervention and appropriate treatment.

What does cervical screening involve?

To put you at ease ahead of your screening, here’s an overview of what you can expect on the day of your appointment:

  1. Once you’ve arrived at the clinic, you’ll be given a private space to undress from the waist down. You’ll be asked to lie on an examination table with your feet placed in stirrups, and you’ll be provided with a sheet or gown to cover yourself.
  2. Your healthcare professional will gently insert a lubricated speculum into your vagina. This helps to separate the vaginal walls, allowing the cervix to be visible. They will be gentle and ensure that you’re as comfortable as possible throughout the process. 
  3. A small brush will be used to collect a sample of cells from your cervix. You might feel a light scraping which can feel a little uncomfortable, but it only lasts a few seconds. 
  4. After collecting the cell sample, the healthcare specialist will remove the speculum from your vagina. This part of the process is usually quick and relatively painless, although you may feel some mild discomfort or pressure.
  5. You’ll now be given some privacy while you put your clothes back on. And that’s it, all done.

What happens next?

After your appointment, the collected cells are sent to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will examine the cell sample for the presence of high-risk HPV, and if this is found to be present, the test will go on to check for abnormal cervical cells. 

Your results will be available within a few weeks, and the medical team at The Amara Clinic will take time to talk through your smear test results, explain the findings, and discuss any further investigations or treatments needed.

Is cervical screening painful?

Cervical screening may cause mild discomfort, but it’s generally not considered painful. Some women, however, can experience pain during the process. 

There are many reasons why cervical screening may be painful, including:

  • Vaginismus
  • Endometriosis
  • Cervical ectropion 
  • Vaginal dryness and other post-menopausal symptoms
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • Clenching, perhaps due to nerves, anxiety, a previous bad smear test or experience of sexual violence 
  • Other gynaecological issues

If you are worried about experiencing pain, then rest assured that the team at The Amara Clinic is here to support you and to make the experience as comfortable and pain-free as possible.

Cervical screening at The Amara Clinic

The Amara Clinic offers expert smear testing by experienced healthcare professionals in a calm, stress-free environment.

With current NHS demands, many women feel worried about their gynaecological health and accessing the care they need. The Amara Clinic offers investigations and treatment by a highly-skilled Consultant Gynaecologist and a supportive multi-disciplinary team.

The team will ensure that you feel relaxed and comfortable during your test, always treating you with respect and discretion. They will also take time to explain your results, discuss if further treatment is needed and arrange a referral for further treatment or follow-up if necessary.

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Miss Anne Henderson

Anne Henderson is a Consultant Gynaecologist and British Menopause Society Accredited Specialist. She has been a consultant for more than 20 years, and spent 17 years as an NHS Consultant.

Now, as the owner of Gynae Expert Ltd and the Amara Clinic, she is passionate about championing women’s health and menopause in her practice, and by using her voice in media, online and on projects that have a positive impact on women’s physical and mental health.