Why regular cervical screenings are essential
17 March 2017 by - Dr Pandelis Athanasias
If you are a woman over the age of 25, you will most likely have been invited to take a cervical screening test, otherwise known as the smear test. These tests are carried out to determine whether any abnormal cells are present in a woman’s cervix.
Smear tests are quick and pain-free, using only a small brush to remove cells from the neck of the cervix, which is then examined to detect any changes. If irregular cells are left untreated or ignored, they could potentially develop into cervical cancer.
Preventative, not diagnostic
It is important to note that smear tests are used to help prevent cervical cancer, rather than diagnose it. Cervical cancer does not develop suddenly, out of the blue, but cervical cells will change progressively over time.
This is why regular cervical screenings, at least once every three years, are highly recommended for all women between the ages of 25-49. Women between the ages of 50-64 should get screened at least once every five years.
Tests are designed to identify the smallest mutation. These will typically be categorised as pre-cancerous, before any serious complications arise in the cervix. This preventative approach to screening means that 1 in 20 women will receive an abnormal smear test result from their GP or private gynaecologist.
Young women are the most at-risk
Nevertheless, more than 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the UK. According to Cancer Research, the peak age group for incidences of cervical cancer is in those aged 25-29. It is therefore shocking to learn that one-fifth of young women think a cervical smear test constitutes an unnecessary health check. Amongst these, around 26% have concerns that the simple procedure may cause pain or embarrassment.
It is vital to educate women on the importance of regular smear testing, particularly young women, who are the highest risk group but also seem to be the most reluctant. A cervical screening is a simple, painless 5-10 minute procedure which can save your life.