Screening & Testing

Cervical screening is the best way to detect cervical cancer

Planning or going for a cervical screening can be daunting. While it's one of the most intimate examinations you can receive from your health care provider, it's also one of the most important.

A cervical screening checks for changes in the cervix or neck of the womb at the top of the vagina. These may be early changes in the cells of the cervix which are caused by a viral infection called the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), that in rare cases may over time become cancerous cells.

Screenings are vital in recognising early changes, because at the early stage they can be treated very easily and prevent the onset of cervical cancer. By having regular screenings, you can help prevent up to 90% of the risk of cervical cancer.

Doctor with Microscope

What the guidelines say

Current guidelines recommend that every woman from the ages of 25-64 who has ever had intimate relations should have a cervical screening every three to five years (dependent on age), whether or not they are still sexually active. These recommendations also apply to women who have been vaccinated against HPV and have had the cervical cancer vaccine. The vaccine protects against the two most common strains of HPV, but not all, so screenings remain your best protection against cervical cancer.

Your health care expert should let you know if you need to have them more regularly.

My first test

a true story

The first time I heard the words cervical cancer was when I was sitting in a Sexual Health class in secondary school at a talk that lasted around 20 minutes, a shamefully short amount of time for something that is so serious.

The school were the first of a few in the East of England to offer the HPV Vaccine that would help eliminate a young girls chances of getting cervical cancer. I decided that I would go ahead and have the vaccine, after all if it was eliminating my chances of getting cervical cancer, I couldn't see why I wouldn't. Plus, I was extremely lucky to be in a position where the vaccine was made accessible to me.

After I had the vaccine there wasn't much mention of cervical cancer until 6 months before my 25th birthday. I received my first appointment letter though the post and knowing how important it was to have a test, 3 days later my appointment was booked.

On the lead up to my appointment I went out with a group of friends, 2 of which had received the letters to book their appointment but hadn't booked it yet. We spoke about the reasons for them not booking it and they both agreed they were just 'too embarrassed'. Something which had never bothered me but seemed to affect a lot more woman than I originally thought.

With smear tests in England being at its lowest in nearly 20 years, I knew that no matter how 'embarrassing' or 'scary' the test might seem that those few seconds of my life would be incredibly important. Lots of people don't realise that while the vaccine is safe and effective it protects against 70-80% of the risk of cervical cancer not all the 15 virus types, so even after having the HPV vaccine, it's still important to have caervical screenings.

On the day

My test day arrived; the appointment was booked for 9 am and after 20 minutes I was out of the health care practice and walking to work.

It was even quicker than I thought,

and my nurse was so friendly!

The nurse knew that it was my first test so talked though the process of collecting the cells and how long it would be until I received a letter containing my results. She asked a few more questions regarding any contraception and my periods, nothing too confusing! I had decided to wear a dress for the test, a little tip I picked up online to make the whole process even quicker. I laid down on the bed and the test began, she talked to me throughout the whole process and told me to tell her if at any point I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it was a slightly strange sensation but at no point was it painful and it was over in less than a minute.

I walked out of the doctors so confused as to why there is so much stigma around cervical screenings and why someone would ever put off booking a potentially lifesaving appointment. I instantly messaged my group of friends telling them my experience and encouraging them to book theirs. The text took me longer to write than the cervical screening test itself!

Around 10 days later

My test results came back all clear. In 3 years', I'll have another letter asking me back for my second cervical screening and to be honest with you, if it means I'll have some peace of mind that everything's ok I'll be booking straight away.

I can't stress enough how important these tests are, if you're putting off booking a test because you're worried about going alone then you can take someone with you. If you're nervous you can listen to some music or if you're worried about a nurse seeing your lady bits then, don't, they see them every day and really do not care if you've had a wax or not.

I hope that my story encourages you to book your appointment, after all, it could save your life.

A Letter from Erin

a true story

Image of Erin

I have never missed a smear test - I always stayed on top of it. I was due my smear in October 2020 - I called my gp to book it and was advised that they were not doing smears because of Covid and they didn't know when the smears will be up and running again. I was quite shocked to hear that but there was nothing I could do, just had to wait it out and they would be in touch when smears would be performed again.

In November 2021 I got a letter from GP calling me in for my smear. I attended that appointment in November. A few short weeks later I received a letter advising me of changes to cells and I was to call to arrange an appointment. The lady on the phone spoke to me with an urgent tone. Said they wanted me in as soon as possible and I was to make an appointment. This made me rather anxious all through the festive period that year. Booked my appointment for 5th January 2022 but it wasn't going to be at my gp - it would be the Vale of Leven hospital.

When I got my confirmation letter it contained information about a colposcopy appointment, this made me even more anxious as nothing of the sort was previously mentioned to me. Colposcopy was performed on 5th Jan 2022. A week or so later I received a call asking me to attend an appointment at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

At this appointment I was advised that a tumour on my cervix was removed. I was told it was malignant and was given options on what to do. She explained it wasn't a case of "if" it will return, it'll be "when".

I was offered treatment when it returns and told to have a baby asap if that was in my plans but I opted to have a hysterectomy. I made this decision as I have a 9 year old daughter and I didn't want her losing her mum because I was selfish and wanted to keep my womb for a future child. Getting pregnant now wasn't a real option for me either because I would never be as selfish to have a child when I potentially won't be there for them growing up.

I also had an endometrial biopsy in February before my hysterectomy.

I am very lucky, it was stage 1.

I had my hysterectomy on 8th March 2022 - International Women's Day believe it or not! Luckily I have a sense of humour for the irony. The surgeon left in my ovaries and lymph nodes.

I'm still under 6 monthly reviews until 3 years post op.

As you can imagine, I'm still in quite a high state of anxiety and I'm mentally not coping. This is why I didn't get back to you sooner, I tend to kind of hide away.

I find it quite shocking that the government is trying to push smears to 5 year intervals.... That's the same time frame I had to wait because of covid! And I've recently found out that NHS England didn't stop smear tests. This news just makes me feel so angry and upset if I'm honest.

Hopefully hear from you soon and thanks again.

Kind regards

Erin

Remarkable Dedication

Having battled cervical cancer myself, I understand the importance of organizations like UK Cervical Cancer. Their dedication to providing resources, support, and advocacy for patients
is remarkable. Thanks to their efforts, I felt empowered throughout my journey. Let's stand together in gratitude and support for UK Cervical Cancer.

Laura Adams