Sunday 19 November 2017

Cervical cancer is often preventable

By Dr Michelle Cooper

Cervical cancer is often preventable. Cervical screening tests are designed to detect abnormalities of the cervix which, if untreated, could lead to cervical cancer in the future.

CervicalCheck is a Government funded National Cervical Screening Programme which provides free smear tests for women between the ages of 25 and 60 years.

Cervical screening tests are performed in order to prevent cervical cancer, not to diagnose cancer. During each test, cells are removed from the cervix with a plastic brush. The cells are then examined under a microscope to look for early changes that, if ignored and not treated, could develop into cancer of the cervix.


An abnormal result does not mean cancer in the majority of cases, but may indicate that cancer could develop in the future. About 1 in 20 women have a result that requires further testing or treatment. Early detection and treatment can prevent cancer developing.

There are degrees of abnormality:

- Low grade changes. The presence of minor changes that may often return to normal. Such patients are advised to have a repeat smear in 6 months and if changes persist patients are referred for colposcopy.

- High grade changes. These changes are less likely to return to normal on their own and patients are referred for colposcopy.


Coloposcopy is a more detailed examination of the cervix using a magnifier. The procedure takes approximately 15 minutes, where a liquid is used to paint the cervix which highlights abnormal cells. Treatment is offered if cells remain abnormal. Treatment, if needed, is simple and virtually 100% effective in stopping cancer from developing in the future.


- How effective is cervical screening? The test is 80% effective. For every 10 women who would have developed cervical cancer, 8 cases can be prevented.

- Why are women under 25 years of age not tested? Cervical cancer is extremely rare in women under 25 years. Abnormal cervical screening results are common in women under 25 years and most of these changes seen revert back to normal without any treatment.

- Do you have to have a smear test if you have had a hysterectomy? This depends on the type of hysterectomy that you have had. Your GP will determine whether you need to have a cervical smear or not.

- I have irregular bleeding; do I need to have a smear test straightaway? The answer is NO. Cervical screening is a routine test performed on women who do not have symptoms and it does not investigate irregular bleeding.

Bleeding after intercourse, bleeding between periods and bleeding after the menopause are abnormal symptoms and need to be investigated on discusion with your GP.

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