It’s easy to put off having a cervical smear test.
It may not be the most pleasurable activity, but research has revealed having regular screening and smears saves lives.
Why you need a smear test
Cervical cancer – that is cancer of the neck of the womb - is triggered by the HPV (human papilloma virus) which most sexually-active men and women acquire. Not everyone who is infected with HPV will develop cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, there are no apparent symptoms for cervical cancer in the early stages. However, smear tests can detect cell changes that indicate cancer.
The body can usually deal with HPV infections. If you have an abnormal smear, you will be rechecked a few months later. Often the body has fought off the infection and the cells have returned to normal.
Smear tests save lives
However, in some cases the HPV overrides the immune system causing cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. This why cervical cancer screening is vital – it allows the gynaecologists to remove abnormal cervical cells at an early enough stage, before they become cancerous.
Since regular smear tests were introduced in the 80s cervical cancer rates have fallen. In fact, over the last 20 years the incidence of cervical cancer in England has almost halved.
Doctors are concerned the message that cervical cancer is a killer is getting lost.
Downturn for smear tests
According to the NHS, women are not turning up for their scheduled smear test appointments.
More than 1.2million women aged 25 to 64 missed out on a smear test in 2016/17.
Rates of the disease are expected to go up by nearly 40% in the next 20 years. Delays in treatment can be deadly for cervical cancer.
Public Health England commented: "GPs should consider offering a variety of appointments earlier in the morning and evening, making it easier for women to attend at a time that suits them’.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said:
"We are leading busier, more mobile lives therefore these statistics must surely serve as a call to action to make the screening programme more accessible, again, something we have been saying for years."
Harley Street smear test
So, what to do if you have put off your cervical smear? You could consider contacting a private gynaecologist for a smear test
Cervical cancer 'kills twice as many as AIDS'
Cervical cancer is the most common cause of cancer for women under the age of 35. Approximately 900 women in the UK lose their lives to this illness every year – almost twice as many as the amount of people who die from AIDS in this country.
You should have smear tests every three years from the age of 25, and more frequently if you have abnormal cells, or concerns.
Almost 40% of of 25 to 29-year-old women ignore their call up for their smear tests.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
There are no external symptoms of cervical cancer, making it essential to have smears to be alerted to cell changes. In later stages there is bleeding in between monthly periods or post-menopause. Back pain and unpleasant discharge are also red flags that require checking immediately.
What does an abnormal smear mean?
Don’t panic if you are told there is a problem with the result. There may be an issue with the test its self.
These could include
- A poor sample
- Contamination with menstrual blood
- A vaginal infection or STI
The test will simply be repeated a few months later.
Less than one in ten women will have an abnormal result after a smear. It means that there are some changes to the cells on the cervix.
How are abnormal cells treated?
You will usually be referred for a colposcopy and a biopsy will be taken. At certain clinics, LLETZ - large loop excision of the transformation zone- technology can be used to treat abnormal cells.
This can performed during a colposcopy. This is effect for over a third of women. However, 60% of women will refer further treatment for the cancerous cells.
What are the recovery rates for cervical cancer?
- Stage 1: 80-99% of women with cervical cancer survive
- Stage 2: 60-90% of women with cervical cancer survive
- Stage 3: 30-50% of women with cervical cancer survive
- Stage 4: 20% of women with cervical cancer survive
The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods ceaseFull medical glossary