Common ailments

Cervical screening

I’m 25 years old and I recently received a letter from my GP surgery asking me to attend for my first smear test. I have read the information about cervical screening that came with the letter but I still don’t feel comfortable attending for the screening. Is it up to me whether or not I attend?

Cervical screening (smear test) is designed to detect early cell abnormalities in the cervix which, if left untreated, could lead to the development of cervical cancer. It is therefore a test to prevent cervical cancer, not to diagnose cancer. Through cervical screening, 4,500 cases of cervical cancer are prevented each year in the UK. Women will routinely receive their first invitation for cervical screening at age 25. As long as you attend for regular screening as invited by your GP, then you are unlikely to develop cervical cancer. It is therefore very important that you do not miss your first invitation for screening, particularly if you are sexually active.

Being screened for the first time can be daunting so it would be helpful for you to find out as much as you can about the procedure beforehand. You could perhaps speak to a close female friend or relative who has had a smear test before. Your GP practice will probably have offered you a 15 minute appointment, but the procedure itself should only take 3 or 4 minutes. It involves removing some cells from the neck of the womb with a small plastic brush. It shouldn’t be painful but some women experience mild discomfort and possibly short-term mild pain. Ideally, it is best to attend for screening during the middle of your menstrual cycle when you are not bleeding.

A normal result means you have a very low chance of developing cervical cancer but it does not guarantee that cervical cancer will not occur in the future. This is why it is important to attend for regularly screening. If the test shows any abnormalities then depending on the degree on abnormality, you may be advised to have a simple clinic treatment to remove or destroy the abnormal cells.

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