Cervical Screening Awareness Week 2022: Why are smear tests important and what can you expect?

·4-min read
Cervical Screening Awareness Week takes place from June 20 until June 26 (JESHOOTS/Unsplash)
Cervical Screening Awareness Week takes place from June 20 until June 26 (JESHOOTS/Unsplash)

Cervical Screening Awareness Week takes place from June 20-26.

It was established to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screenings (also called smear tests) and to help people who may find the experience difficult.

Macmillan says that in the UK 1 in 4 people invited for a smear test don’t go to their appointment. This may be because they find the idea of the test daunting, or embarrassing.

But Cervical Screening Awareness Week is an opportunity to ask any questions you may have about smear tests, or to learn from other people’s experiences.

Find out the answers to common questions about cervical screenings below, and for more information, visit the NHS, Macmillan, and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust websites.

Who needs cervical screenings?

Macmillan says “Regular cervical cancer screening is important for anyone with a cervix. This includes women, trans men and people assigned female at birth.”

People who have had the HPV vaccine should still get a smear test. Anyone with a cervix should have the test, regardless of their gender identity of sexuality.

At what age do you start–and stop–getting cervical screening?

The NHS recommends that people between the ages of 25 and 64 have regular cervical screenings.

People will first be invited for a cervical screening up to six months before their 25 birthday, and then every three years after that, until they turn 49.

People aged 50 and older should have a cervical screening every five years, and people aged 65 and older generally only need a smear test if one of their last three tests was abnormal.

What happens in a smear test?

During cervical screening, a nurse or doctor will gently put a speculum into the vagina and open it to see the cervix. They will use a soft brush to take a small sample of cells from the cervix, and then close the speculum and remove it.

The test itself should take less than five minutes, according to the NHS, while the whole appointment should last around 10 minutes.

Does a smear test hurt?

A smear test shouldn’t hurt, but it may feel uncomfortable. Lloyds Pharmacy says the part people usually find uncomfortable is when the speculum is opened, and that having your cervix brushed “can feel a bit strange, but shouldn’t hurt.”

Why are smear tests important?

A smear test checks the health of your cervix. The test looks for “certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix,” according to the NHS.

Screenings are important because detecting these abnormal cells can help prevent cervical cancer. Since the screening programme was introduced in the 1980s, the number of cervical cancer cases has decreased by about 7 per cent each year.

How long does it take to get your results?

When you go to your appointment, the doctor or nurse will tell you how long you can expect to wait for your results. You may receive your results in the post, or you may be asked to call your GP.

The NHS says: “Try not to worry if it is taking a long time to get your results letter. It does not mean anything is wrong, and most people will have a normal result.”

Can you have a smear test while pregnant?

The NHS says that pregnancy can make it more difficult to get clear cervical screening results. So if someone was due to have a smear test while pregnant, it is recommended that they reschedule an appointment for around 12 weeks after giving birth.

Can you have a smear test while on your period?

According to Lloyds Pharmacy, “the general rule is to avoid getting a smear test on a day when you have your period,” because menstrual blood can make the sample harder to analyse, and you may end up having to get another test.

Is bleeding after a smear test normal?

The NHS says it is very common to have some spotting or light bleeding after cervical screening and it should go away after a few hours. However, it is recommended that you see your GP if you have heavy bleeding after your test, or if it does not stop after a few hours.

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