A new campaign has launched to raise awareness of the risks of cervical cancer and highlight the benefits of screening, reminding women that cervical screening can stop cancer before it starts. The Public Health England campaign, which launched on 5th March, encourages all women to respond to their cervical screening invitation letters, and if they missed previous invites, to book an appointment at their GP practice.
Two women die every day from cervical cancer in England. Women can protect themselves against the risk of cervical cancer by attending their screening when invited; it is estimated that cervical screening saves around 5,000 lives each year. However, cervical screening is at a 20- year low , with one in four women in the UK not attending their test. Everyone with a cervix, which is most women and many trans people, between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited to attend cervical screening every three or five years depending on their age. The screening test, which only lasts a few minutes, is not a test for cancer. In fact, attending regular screening can help stop cervical cancer before it starts by preventing potentially harmful cells from developing. The 'Cervical Screening Saves Lives' campaign empowers women with the knowledge and tools to get screened.
What is cervical screening?
Cervical screening, or the “smear test”, is a routine health check that identifies potentially harmful cells and changes on the cervix. Cervical screening is not a test for cancer but catching any changes early can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer. Cervical cancer kills two women every day. Regular screenings can help reduce that number, which is why it's so important you attend your screening when invited.
Who is the screening for?
If you are a woman, or someone with a cervix, you will be invited for your cervical screening at regular intervals:
- If you're aged 25-49, you'll be invited every 3 years
- If you're aged 50-64, you'll be invited every 5 years
It is advisable you have regular cervical screenings, but ultimately, it is your choice whether you attend.
What happens during cervical screening?
Your screening will only take a minute or two, the whole appointment usually takes around ten minutes. During your screening, a nurse will give you a private space in which to undress from the waist down. They will also give you a paper sheet to cover yourself and will ask you to lie on the bed. They'll then place a speculum (a hollow cylinder with a rounded edge) in your vagina. This helps them see your cervix. Then, using a small brush, they'll gently gather some cells from your cervix. They'll remove the speculum, put your sample in a pot and send it off for testing. You'll get your results around two weeks later.
The nurse is there to answer any questions or concerns you may have before your appointment, so please talk to them if you're feeling nervous. There are also a range of things you can do to put yourself at ease during your screening:
- If you'd like, you can take a trusted friend or family member with you
- Wear a long, loose dress or skirt. It may make you feel more covered during your screening
- Take long, deep breaths to help you relax
- Listen to a podcast or some music during your screening to put you at ease
- Speculums come in a range of different sizes. It is a rounded cylinder which is gently opened so nurses can see your cervix. You may want to discuss the size of the speculum with the nurse before you have the test.
If you're due to have a cervical screening, you'll receive a letter in the post. Don't ignore it, book your cervical screening with your GP practice today.
If you missed your previous screening, contact your GP practice to book an appointment today.
How to book your cervical screening appointment
If you are due a cervical screening you can book an appointment with your GP practice.
For more information, visit www.nhs.uk/cervicalscreening