In this blog, Rebecca tells us about her cervical screening experience and gives us information on the importance of these screenings.

Rebecca’s experience:

‘After putting off my screening test for far too long, a conversation with a friend prompted me to book the appointment. The test itself was fine but a couple of days afterwards, my GP called and asked me to come in. At that point I knew it wasn’t good news.

My test had shown ‘adenocarcinoma and high-grade severe dyskaryosis with features of invasion’. A result that I now know is pretty rare. I don’t remember much about the rest of the conversation but I came away with a copy of the screening test report – my GP had helpfully underlined ‘adenocarcinoma’.

The next few weeks were a difficult time. All I could think was ‘I have cancer, how bad is it?’ I was referred for an urgent colposcopy and had a LLETZ treatment at the same time. It was uncomfortable but surprisingly quick. I was a little sore afterwards and had some bleeding for a few weeks.

The worst part was waiting for the results of the colposcopy/LLETZ. I kept imagining the worst case scenario. Luckily, when the results came back it was good news. The report showed that it had been CIN3 rather than cancer and that the LLTEZ treatment had removed all the abnormal cells.

My last two follow up colposcopies have been clear.

Although it was a stressful time, I’m so glad I went for test when I did and didn’t give those cells more time to develop into cancer. I’d urge anyone who is delaying their appointment to get it booked in now. It might just save your life.’

Cervical screening

Cervical screening saves lives. It’s free through the NHS and reduces the risk of women developing cervical cancer. Since the screening programme began in the 1980s, the number of women who develop cervical cancer has halved.1

Yet many women still don’t attend their appointments when invited. Over the last decade, there has been an increase in rates of cervical cancer amongst younger women.2 Cervical screening awareness week 2015 (15th – 21st June) aims to highlight this issue and to increase public understanding of cervical abnormalities, cervical cancer and the screening process.3

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening (also known as a smear test) is a way of checking for early changes to cells of the cervix. This is not a test for cancer. But it can help to prevent cervical cancer by finding early abnormalities that could develop into cancer if left untreated.

During the test, your doctor or nurse take a sample of cells from your cervix using a test known as liquid-based cytology. It’s a simple procedure and takes less than five minutes. It can be uncomfortable but shouldn’t be painful. The cells are sent to a laboratory and looked at under a microscope to check for any abnormalities.

Some women feel nervous about having the test, especially for the first time. But afterwards, many women say that it was easier than they imagined.

Where can you have a screening test?

Most women choose to have the test done by their practice nurse or GP. You’ll be sent a letter inviting you to make an appointment.

Cervical screening tests can also be done at a family planning clinic, Well Woman clinic, sexual health clinic or a genitourinary clinic. They can also be done at private clinics.

In this video, a consultant gynaecological surgeon explains cervical smear tests and how they can prevent cancer:

In this video a Consultant Gynecological Surgeon gives an overview of how cervical screening (smear tests) can prevent cervical cancer. The effectiveness of these tests and the proportions of people who do get cervical cancer is discussed.

Who has cervical screening?

In the UK, the NHS provides cervical screening tests for all women within a specific age range who are registered with a GP. The age range for screening varies across the UK:

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland:

  • women are sent their first invitation for routine cervical screening at the age of 25
  • women between the ages of 25–49 are invited for cervical screening every three years
  • women between the ages of 50–64 are invited for screening every five years.

In Scotland, cervical screening is offered every three years to women aged 20–60.

Screening test results

You’ll usually receive a letter within about two weeks of having the test done. Most women have a normal result. If abnormal cells are found during your cervical screening test, it doesn’t mean you have cancer. In some cases, if these cell changes aren’t treated, they could develop into cancer later on.

Your screening report usually refers to cell changes as borderline, mild, moderate or severe. These cell changes may also be called dyskaryosis. If you have moderate or severe cell changes, you’ll usually be referred for a further test called a colposcopy.

A colpsocopy involves a detailed examination of your cervix using a colposcope. It helps confirm whether you have cervical intra-epitheial neoplasia (CIN) and how severe it is. CIN is when changes occur in the surface (squamous) cells of the cervix.

We have more information about colposcopy which you can read here.

More information

If you want any more information about symptoms or screening, we have information about cervical cancer and cervical screening on our website. Or, order a free copy of our booklet Understanding cervical screening.

To get involved with Cervical Screening Awareness Week, visit Jo’s Cancer Trust website. You can help with their social media campaign, or simply help distribute posters and leaflets where you live.

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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Sources:

1Cancer Research UK. Cervical cancer key stats. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/keyfacts/cervical-cancer/uk-cervical-cancer-statistics

2Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Smear campaign against cervical cancer launches as over one million women fail to attend screening and incidence rises in the under 35. http://www.jostrust.org.uk/smear-campaign-against-cervical-cancer-launches

3Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Cervical Screening Awareness Week (CSAW). http://www.jostrust.org.uk/get-involved/campaign/cervical-screening-awareness-week