Time to talk about cervical screening

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week: 17-23rd January 2022.

This year, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity, is encouraging everyone to get involved in Cervical Cancer Prevention Week by sharing tips, facts and stories about cervical screening.

Cervical screening, or smear tests, can save lives by stopping cervical cancer before it starts. However, cervical cancer prevention doesn’t stop at screening. They also want to raise awareness about the different results that can come from cervical screening.

Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. The free health test checks for HPV, or the human papillomavirus. You might see it on your results letter. It’s an extremely common virus, but how much do you know about it?

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that lives on the skin and can affect the cervix. There are over 200 types of HPV – most are low-risk and cause no problems, but around 13 are high-risk and are linked to cancer.

HPV is usually passed on through sexual contact, which can make some people feel worried or embarrassed. But it is nothing to be ashamed of. Because HPV lives on our skin, it is easy to get and difficult to completely protect against. At some point during our lives, eight in ten people will get HPV.

What if I get HPV?

In most cases, your immune system will get rid of HPV without it causing any problems. If your cervical screening shows that you have HPV, you’ll be invited back more regularly (after a year) to keep a closer eye on you. If high risk HPV is detected, the sample is then checked for abnormal cells.

There is no treatment for HPV itself, but there are treatments for conditions caused by HPV, including genital warts, cervical cell changes and cancer. Persistent HPV infection is what causes the cells in the cervix to change. Over time, these abnormal cells may develop into cervical cancer if not monitored or treated.

Reducing your risk of HPV

You can’t completely protect against HPV. But there are ways you can reduce your risk of getting HPV or developing a persistent infection that your immune system can’t get rid of.

Stopping smoking, getting the HPV vaccine if you are eligible, and having safer sex (using condoms or dental dams) all help to reduce your risk.

Extended screening appointments in Rotherham

Going for cervical screening when invited is the best way to find cell changes early, so they can be monitored or treated as needed. In Rotherham, extra appointments have been made available to help people who struggle to attend their GP practice during the week due to work or childcare commitments.

Extra appointments (Extended Access) are available for all Rotherham patients and can be booked through your own GP receptionist or care navigator. Appointments are available weekday evenings 6.30pm-8.30pm and in the daytime at weekends.

Depending on the day of the appointment offered, it will be at one of the following four hubs in the Rotherham area: Dinnington Group Practice; Broom Lane Surgery; Valley Health Centre, Dalton; Highthorn Road Surgery, Kilnhurst.

Tips for your cervical screening test

  • If you feel uncomfortable in waiting rooms, you may want to ask to book the first appointment of the day. This can mean it is quieter and there is less time for you to wait.
  • You are within your rights to ask for a nurse or doctor of a particular gender. If you have a nurse or doctor you trust, you may want to check with your GP surgery if they are able to do it.
  • Wear something comfy and easy to get on and off. Some people feel more covered wearing a skirt or dress as they only need to remove their underwear. Ask if you can bring a spare shawl or blanket to cover yourself if it makes you feel more at ease. You might experience spotting after your cervical screening, so you may want to wear a fuller brief with a liner or sanitary pad.
  • Speculums come in different sizes. If you find the standard size too uncomfortable, you can ask to try another size. Lying in a different position, such as on your side with your knees bent, may also make the test more comfortable.
  • If you have gone through or are going through the menopause, let your doctor or nurse know. After menopause, the opening of the vagina and vaginal walls become less able to stretch, which can make the test more uncomfortable. A vaginal oestrogen cream or pessary may help.
  • Don’t rush off. Take your time to recover and make sure you feel okay before you leave. Arrange for someone to pick you up in case you don’t feel great after.
  • Ask questions. Speak to your friends, nurses, or colleagues for reassurance, especially before your first cervical screening or if you have previously experienced anything that makes the test hard for you.

Join the conversation #CervicalCancerPreventionWeek | www.jostrust.org.uk/CCPW. Their free national helpline is 0808 802 8000

Be Cancer SAFE is part of the Health Engagement Project, commissioned by the Rotherham Clinical Commissioning Group and based at Voluntary Action Rotherham. You can follow their social media accounts on Facebook or Twitter