Regular cervical screening is a vital tool for early detection of cervical cancer, yet many women hesitate to schedule their appointments.

This Cervical Screening Awareness Week (17th - 23rd June), Nutrix Personnel aim to breakdown the barriers surrounding cervical screening, provide an in-depth explanation on what cervical cancer is, and the symptoms associated, as well as offering tips and guidance on the best ways you can protect yourself.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that arises in the cervix. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus (womb) that connects it to the vagina. It's lined with two main types of cells: squamous cells on the outer surface (ectocervix) and glandular cells on the inner surface (endocervix). Cervical cancer typically develops from abnormal changes in these cells.

Cervical cancer represents about 2% of all new cancer diagnoses. However, due to the effectiveness of screening programs, it's become much more preventable and treatable when detected early.


Who Can Get Cervical Cancer?

It's important to clarify that anyone with a cervix can develop cervical cancer. This includes women, transgender men, non-binary individuals assigned female at birth, and cisgender women. While traditionally diagnosed most often in women between 30 and 45 who are sexually active, recent data from Cancer Research UK suggests a concerning shift, with the peak age for new cases now falling between 25 and 29 years old.

What are the Symptoms?

Cervical cancer is often cunning. In its early stages, it frequently goes unnoticed, with symptoms only appearing after an abnormal cervical screening. Even when symptoms do arise, they can be subtle and easily mistaken for other, less serious gynaecological conditions. In some cases, there might not be any symptoms at all.

There are, however, some key signs to watch out for:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding: This is the most common symptom and can manifest in several ways for example: bleeding between periods, bleeding after sex, or bleeding after menopause.
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge: This could be watery, blood-tinged, or have a foul odour.

It's also important to remember that experiencing any of these symptoms doesn't automatically mean you have cervical cancer. Nutrix Personnel would, however, recommend that you see your GP as soon as possible for a checkup.  If your doctor suspects cervical cancer, they will refer you to a specialist for further evaluation within two weeks. Early detection is key for successful treatment, so don't hesitate to seek professional advice.

What is the Best Way to Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer?

The most effective way to safeguard yourself against cervical cancer is through regular cervical screening (formerly known as a smear test). This screening doesn't directly test for cancer, but rather serves as a preventive measure to identify and address abnormalities in your cervix before they have a chance to develop into cancer.

The NHS Cervical Screening Program:

The NHS program invites individuals with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 to participate.  Women aged 25 to 64 are typically called for screenings every three years, while those aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years. You'll receive your results by mail within 2-6 weeks, with clear instructions on next steps. If you haven't received a reminder and believe you're due, contact your GP to schedule an appointment.

During a cervical screening, a healthcare professional will collect a small cell sample from your cervix. This sample is then examined under a microscope for any changes that may indicate precancerous cells. In some regions, the sample may also be tested for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection that can contribute to cervical cancer development.

It's important to remember that an abnormal screening result doesn't necessarily mean you have cancer. In most cases, it indicates the presence of HPV, precancerous cells that can be treated, or a combination of both. Early detection and intervention are crucial for successful treatment, making regular screening vital.

Tips for Your Cervical Screening Appointment:

Cervical Screening appointments can cause anxiety, and every woman's experience is unique. Life's ups and downs, from major events to daily fluctuations in mood, can all influence how you feel about the appointment. Here are some tips that might help make your cervical screening more comfortable:

  • Request a longer appointment: This allows you extra time to ask questions and feel prepared.
  • Bring a close friend or family member: Invite someone you feel comfortable with to join you in the waiting room or even during the appointment itself.
  • Inquire about a smaller speculum: Some healthcare providers have speculums in different sizes. A smaller one might be more comfortable for you.
  • Consider wearing a skirt or dress: This allows you to remain partially clothed during the exam, potentially increasing your sense of security.
  • Open communication with your nurse: Feel free to ask questions or express any concerns you may have. Your nurse is there to support you throughout the process.

It might take trying a few of these suggestions to discover what makes you feel most comfortable. Don't get discouraged if the first tip you try doesn't work perfectly. Remember, Nutrix Personnel are here to help in any way we can. By incorporating some of these tips, you can transform your cervical screening appointment into a more manageable and even empowering experience.

The Importance of Attending Your Cervical Screening Appointment

Nearly a third, around 4.6 million, of those eligible for screening missed their appointment in 2023. Cervical screening is a simple yet powerful tool that empowers women and people with a cervix to take control of their health. By detecting and addressing abnormalities early, it can effectively prevent cervical cancer.

If you've received a cervical screening invitation, don't delay in scheduling an appointment. Prioritise your well-being and contact your GP practice or sexual health clinic today. Remember, a quick and straightforward screening could be the key to early detection and successful treatment.


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