This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. In this blog, written by editorial assistant Amy-Louise, we explain what cervical screening is and why it’s important. 

In 2017, a few days before my 25th birthday, I went for my first cervical screening test. Once I’d received my letter with my invitation to attend screening, I put it to the back of my mind for a few months before I made an appointment. However, I’m extremely glad that I went, as the test showed abnormal cells and I was invited back for a colposcopy.

I was lucky to have not needed any further treatment as a result of the colposcopy. Despite this, it certainly opened my eyes to how essential cervical screening tests are in detecting any abnormal changes in the cervix before they have an opportunity to develop into cancer.

The theme of this year's prevention week is ‘Reduce your risk’. One of the main ways that women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer is to attend cervical screening tests when invited. According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, 75% of cervical cancers can be prevented by cervical screening.

Who should have cervical screening?
The NHS offers cervical screening tests for women aged from 25 to 64 who are registered with a GP. If you are in this age group, it is important for you to have cervical screening if you have a cervix, and have ever been sexually active with a man or woman.

What happens at a cervical screening test?
The test should take less than five minutes. It shouldn’t hurt, but it may feel uncomfortable. Tell your nurse or doctor if you experience any pain, as they will try and make the experience as comfortable as possible. During the test, the doctor or nurse will take a sample of cells from your cervix. 

This image shows a quote from Cathy which reads: ‘It’s one of those things that you want to get done to make sure everything is all right. It’s not something you can see that might be wrong from the outside.’

The cervical screening test can be very intimate procedure. You may find it worrying, stressful, or embarrassing. If you are worried about having the test, it may help to talk it through with someone. You may want to talk to a friend or family member, or your doctor.

When do I get my results?
You should receive your results two to four weeks after the test. If you are found to have abnormal cells, you might be invited for a colposcopy, depending on the change.

Your results might also show that you have HPV, which is very common. Many people do not have any symptoms and do not know they have HPV. It is important to note that most people with HPV will not develop cervical cancer. (We will be blogging about HPV very soon, so look out for that if you would like to know more).

A colposcopy is a further test to look at the cervix in more detail. It can be used to confirm whether you have CIN and how severe it might be. CIN is not cancer, but it is a pre-cancerous condition. If you have it, you may need treatment to stop cervical cancer developing.

Why is cervical screening important?
Abnormal changes in the cervix don’t cause any symptoms. So you will not know if you are affected unless you have cervical screening. Screening finds any abnormal cell changes. It then identifies the changes that are most likely to become cancer. These cells can then be treated before they have a chance to develop.

Where can I find more information and support?
Each year, more than 3,200 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer. We have more information in our booklets Understanding cervical cancer and Understanding cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN).

To get involved with Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, you can visit the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website. We also have lots of information on our website about cervical screening and CIN.

To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

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