Is it time you booked a cervical screening test?

If you think you may have missed your regular cervical screening appointment (smear test), contact your GP now.

NHS figures reveal that the pandemic saw a small reduction in the numbers coming forward for cervical screening.

According to Dr Vasa Gnanapragasam, lead GP for Merton, “Cervical screening is a really effective test for picking up the changes which could lead to cancer.

“If you think you might have missed a screening test or you’ve just received an invitation, contact your GP now. Convenient appointments are available across the borough, including in the evening and at weekends.”

Over the past year, RM Partners West London Cancer Alliance has worked with South West London NHS to improve access to cervical screening. In a pilot project, GP practices across Merton and Wandsworth have been offering hundreds of additional weekend and evening appointments, giving patients increased choice of convenient slots and sites.

What should I know about cervical screening?

The first thing to remember is that cervical screening (or the smear test) is not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer by checking the health of your cervix. The cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina.

The test involves taking a small sample of cells from your cervix and checking for certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) – the virus that can cause cervical cancer. If these high-risk types of HPV are not found, you do not need any further tests. If they are, your sample will be checked for any changes in the cells of your cervix. These can then be treated before they turn into cervical cancer.

Why should I have a cervical smear test?

Sadly, two women in the UK die every day from cervical cancer. Cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself. Currently, according to government figures, the test prevents 70% of cervical cancer deaths. If everyone attended screening regularly, 83% could be prevented.

Who needs to come for cervical screening and how often?

All women and people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 should go for regular screening – every three years if you’re aged 25 to 49 and every five years if you’re 50 to 64. You’ll receive a letter from the NHS inviting you to book. If you think you have missed a screening appointment, contact you GP now.

What are the dos and don’ts before a smear test?

  • Do book a time and day when you are not having your period.
  • Do not use any creams or lubricants on your vagina in the two days before your test.
  • Do talk to your GP if you are pregnant, have had a hysterectomy or have any worries about the test.
  • Wearing a skirt or dress for your appointment might make things easier.

Do I need a smear test if I’m not sexually active?

You can get the HPV virus from any kind of sex or sexual touching with a man or a woman. If you’ve never had any sexual contact, you may decide not to go for cervical screening – but you can still have a test if you want one. If you’re not sure, talk to your GP or nurse.

Do I need a smear test if I’ve had the HPV vaccination?

The HPV vaccine is routinely offered to schoolchildren aged 12 to 13. The vaccine protects you against some high-risk types of HPV, but not all, so cervical screening is still recommended.

How long do smear test results take?

Your cervical screening results will usually come in the post in two to six weeks’ time.  If you have been waiting longer, contact your GP.

… and what do they mean?

Your results letter will explain. Most people will have a negative result meaning that HPV was not found in their sample and their chances of getting cervical cancer are very low.

If HPV is found in your sample, you may need another cervical screening test in one year or a different test to look at your cervix (a colposcopy).

Sometimes you’ll be asked to come back in three months to have the test again because the results were unclear. Read more about the results on the NHS website.

What if I’ve had a smear test but have symptoms?

No screening test is 100% effective. Always contact your GP if you have symptoms of cervical cancer, regardless of when you last had a test – don’t wait until your next screening appointment. The symptoms of cervical cancer include bleeding between periods, bleeding during or after sex, or after the menopause, and any unusual vaginal discharge. Find out more about the symptoms of cervical cancer.

Read more about cervical screening on the NHS and Jo’s Trust websites.