Writing these blog posts is actually very informative for me as well as the people I write for. I have learnt SO much whilst researching my various subjects. One thing in particular has stuck with me and has been playing on my mind for a while. Before researching cervical cancer, I had no idea that it was one of the only cancer’s that is preventable. So many women suffer from this horrible type of cancer every year with many dying because of it. The idea of all these women having to face cancer when it could have been avoided breaks my heart. So I have decided I am going to try and help do something about it! I’m going to start a project to encourage ladies to have regular smears and to try and raise as much awareness of cervical cancer as I can. I’m hoping it will give me the opportunity to work with my lovely fellow ambassador Suzanne Fernando as I think she is fabulous! As I have mentioned before, I am not yet old enough to qualify for regular smear tests so I do not know much about them. I have done quite a lot of research on the subject and am going to use this blog post to explain cervical cancer screening in a bit more detail.
You can read my post about cervical cancer here: http://pennysophia.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/cancer-types-cervical.html
Points to Consider:
You can have a smear test at several different places:
* Your GP’s surgery should offer them
* A family planning clinic
* A genito-urinary clinic
* An antenatal clinic
* A private health clinic
* Marie Stopes
You are well within your rights to request a female doctor or nurse performs your test but any male doctors will be chaperoned by a female staff member anyway. It is important to state if you require a female at the time of booking your appointment.
A smear test should be scheduled whilst you are in the middle of your menstrual cycle (between periods) as it will be very difficult to see your cervix and get a cell sample whilst you are bleeding.
There are varying age limits for women in the four nations of the UK.
* Women between the ages of twenty five and sixty four are screened every three to five years in England and Northern Ireland.
* In Scotland, cervical screening is offered to women aged between twenty and sixty.
* Wales offers cervical screening to women aged between twenty and sixty four.
Research has shown that screening every three years prevents 84/100 cases of cervical cancer that would develop if they weren’t caught by the smears. So getting a smear test every three years is recommended by the NHS up until you are fifty years old. Abnormal cells develop at a much slower rate in women over fifty so screening is recommended after five years for women in that age group. Your local primary care trust will contact you whenever it is time for a screening for you. I cannot stress the importance of attending these appointments enough – it could save you from a battle with cancer.
The Screening Process:
Cervical cancer is preventable. This is because pre cancerous cell changes can be picked up before they have a chance to develop. A cervical cancer screening test is known as a smear test. This involves a doctor or a nurse using a speculum to take a small sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. It sounds horrific and it can be very uncomfortable but I am going to try and explain it as clearly as I can!
You will need to take off your underwear and lie back on the couch/bed. Being as relaxed as you possibly can be will make the procedure less uncomfortable.
Occasionally, the person doing the test will perform a vaginal examination first. This means they will place two gloved fingers inside your vagina to make sure your womb is in the correct position and that it feels like it’s a normal size. They will use their other hand to press down on your abdomen and gently feel your womb.
Then comes the actual smear test: The speculum is placed inside your vagina and has two arms which are used to spread the sides of your vagina apart so the cervix can be clearly seen. A small brush is then inserted and used scraped along the surface of your cervix to collect a sample of your cells. The brush and the cells are then sent to a lab in a pot of liquid and examined under a microscope. Any abnormal cells are reported and further investigation on these cells will be needed.
The important thing to remember with smear tests results is: DON’T PANIC!!! Cancer is not the only cause of abnormal cells or an abnormal result. Sometimes you may be asked to go back for a repeat test, again don’t panic, it could be because:
* You were on your period and the blood meant your cells weren’t visible enough
* Your cervix was inflamed and the cells weren’t visible enough
* An infection was blocking the view of the cells
* There were not enough cells collected in the first test
You may also be told that your test was borderline. This means cell changes have been noted but they were so very close to normal that they are probably nothing to worry yourself about and they will probably return to normal by themselves. You may be asked to go back and have another test in a few months to monitor the situation. You may also be offered a HPV test as HPV is a cause of cervical cancer. If you do test positive for HPV then you will probably been sent for more tests, including a colposcopy to monitor your cervix and the cell changes.
Cervical erosion can be picked up by smear tests. This is not cervical cancer. This means the glandular cells which are normally found inside your cervical canal are now visible on the surface of your cervix and it can be inflamed. This is a common condition for teenage girls, pregnant women and women on the pill. It can make you bleed slightly but it usually goes away by itself with no need for treatment.
Abnormal Tests Results:
Abnormal results are usually reported like this:
Mild Dyskaryosis or CIN 1(mild or slight cell changes)
If you are told that you have mild cell changes then you will probably be told to get a colposcopy straight away or to wait and have another smear in six months. Sometimes mild cell changes will go back to normal by themselves but it is important to monitor them and go back for any tests advised by your medical team. If a second test shows abnormal cells then a colposcopy is definitely needed to assess the situation.
Moderate Dyskaryosis or CIN 2 (moderate cell changes)
Treatment will be needed if you have moderate cell changes but you only usually need it once. Then you will have follow up tests to monitor the cells in your cervix. If you have successful treatment after an abnormal smear and carry on having regular smears then you are unlikely to get cervical cancer. If you do not have treatment then you are at real risk of developing cervical cancer
Severe Dyskaryosis or CIN 3 (severe cell changes)
This is also sometimes known as carcinoma in situ (CIS) which sounds like cancer but it isn’t. This means some cells in your cervix look cancerous but are all found in the skin layer which covers your cervix. It won’t be “true” cancer until it breaks through the layer and starts to spread into the surrounding tissue. Urgent treatment is needed for this kind of smear result but if it is moved ASAP then cancer can be prevented.
All these results mean the cells found are pre cancerous meaning if they are left to go untreated, they could develop into cancer of the cervix. YOU DO NOT HAVE CERVICAL CANCER IF YOU ARE TOLD YOU HAVE ABNORMAL CELLS.
9/10 smears come back normal. 1/20 shows a borderline or mild cell change. Most of the time these cells will return to normal by themselves. 1/100 shows moderate cell changes whilst 1/200 show severe changes. Less than 1/1000 shows cancer.
I will explain treatment for abnormal cells in my next blog post but it is hugely important to open any letters sent to you regarding your results. If you are asked to come in for a repeat or are told you have abnormal smears then do not panic. Do not ignore the result. Getting abnormal cells sorted as soon as they appear will save your life. It will mean your chances of getting cervical cancer will be significantly lower. If you are between 25 and 64 and haven’t had a smear for three years then please book one today. It will be uncomfortable for a few minutes but it will be far better then a battle with cervical cancer.
To find out more about smear tests please visit www.cancerreseasrchuk.org
Smear tests are available at my workplace so please let me know if you would prefer to have yours done at a private clinic.