Detecting and removing abnormal cervical cells can prevent help to prevent cervical cancer.
Cervical screening does not test for cancer; it is a test to check the health of the cells of the cervix. Most women's test results show that everything is normal, but for around 1 in 20 women the test will show some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.
It is important to note that most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal on their own. However, in some cases, the abnormal cells need to be removed so that they cannot become cancerous.
In the United Kingdom, around 3,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year.
It is possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, although the condition mainly affects sexually active women between the ages of 30 and 45. The condition is very rare in women under 25 but screening may be carried out in cases where it is deemed as required. You should speak to our healthcare team at your appointment about any concerns you have.
It is estimated that early detection and treatment can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers.
The cervical screening test
The cervical screening test is a simple procedure and usually takes around five minutes to carry out. An instrument called a speculum will be gently inserted into your vagina to hold the walls of your vagina open so that your cervix is visible. A small soft brush will be used to take some cells from the surface of your cervix.
The sample of cervical cells will then be sent to our laboratory and examined under a microscope to see whether there are any abnormal cells present.
Some women may find the procedure a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing, but for most women it is not painful.
If the test picks up abnormalities in the cells in your cervix, it may be recommended that you have treatment to remove them, or further tests in a few months to see if they return to normal on their own. If required, you can be referred to a Gynaecologist within the Kingsbridge Healthcare Group quickly. Our average waiting time to see a consultant is only 3.5 days
Human papilloma virus testing
Changes in the cells of the cervix are often caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Some types are high risk and some types are low risk. HPV-16 and HPV-18 are considered to be high risk for cervical cancer.
If a sample taken during your cervical screening test shows low-grade or borderline cell abnormalities, the sample will be automatically be tested for HPV. If HPV is found in your sample, you should be referred for a colposcopy for further investigation and, if necessary, treatment. If no HPV is found, then you will carry on being routinely screened as normal.
If your sample shows more significant cell changes you will be referred for colposcopy without HPV testing.
In some areas, a test for HPV will be carried out as the first test on the screening sample. In these cases, the sample will only be checked for abnormal cells if HPV is found. If HPV isn’t found, you will be offered a screening test again in three to five years’ time (depending on your age).