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Women's Health

Cervical Screening

What is Cervical Screening

Cervical screening is not a test for diagnosing cervical cancer. It is a test to check the health of the cervix which is the lower part of the womb (often called the neck of the womb). For many women the test results show everything is fine. But for one in ten women the test shows changes in the cells that can be caused by many things. Most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer.

Why do I need Cervical Screening?

Cervical Cancer can often be prevented. The signs that it may develop can be spotted early on so it can be stopped before it even gets going. Cervical screening saves over 1000 lives in the UK each year but unfortunately about 1500 women die from cervical cancer in the UK every year.

Should all Women have the Test?

We offer the test to all women aged between 25 and 64 but cervical cancer is more common if you:

  • First had sex at an early age
  • Smoke
  • Do not use condoms
  • Have had several sexual partners or have had a sexual partner who has had several other partners
  • Take immunosuppressant drugs (for example, after an organ transplant)

If you have passed the menopause you still need to be tested to check that your cervix is healthy. Ask your doctor for advice if you:

  • Have had a hysterectomy
  • Are over 65
  • Have never had sex
  • You are not sure whether you still need to be tested

Should lesbians have a smear test?

Yes, all lesbians need smear tests.

What is the NHS Cervical Screening Programme?

The programme makes sure that if you are aged between 25 and 64 you will automatically receive an invitation from the cytology programme in Northampton. This means it is important that your doctor always has your correct name and address. After your first cervical screen you will receive invitations every three years.

Who will carry out my test?

The Practice Nurse will do your test.

Will I have to undress?

We will ask you to undress from the waist down. But if you wear a full skirt you will not have to remove it.

What happens during the test?

The nurse will ask you to lie down on a couch. They will then gently put a small instrument, called a speculum, into your vagina to hold it open. Then, they will wipe a brush over the cervix to pick up a few of the cells.

Does the test hurt?

You might experience some discomfort or pain - try to relax by taking slow, deep breaths as it may hurt more if you are tense. If it painful, tell the nurse straightaway as they may be able to reduce your discomfort.

Is there anything I should do before the test?

You cannot be tested during your period, so make sure you get an appointment before or after your period is due.

Can I have sex before the test?

If you use a spermicide, a barrier method of contraception or a lubricating jelly, you should not use these for 24 hours before the test as the chemicals they contain may affect the test.

When do I get my results?

When you have the test, the nurse will tell you to ring the surgery in about 4 to 6 weeks' time for the result.

How reliable is cervical screening?

Early detection and treatment can prevent 80% to 90% of cancers developing but, like other screening tests, it is not perfect. It may not always detect early cell changes that may lead to cancer. Abnormal cells on your slide may not be recognised because:

  • Sometimes they do not look much different from normal cells
  • There may be very few abnormal cells on the slide
  • The person reading your slide may miss the abnormality (this happens occasionally no matter how experienced the reader is)
  • About one in ten tests have to be taken again because:
    • You may have an infection which needs treating before a clear slide can be made
    • The cervical cells on your slide may have been hidden by blood or mucus
    • There may not have been enough cervical cells on your slide to give an accurate assessment
    • Your sample may not have been properly prepared
    • Your slide may have been broken

If you have any unusual symptoms such as bleeding after sex or between periods you should consult your doctor.

What does it mean if I am called back?

Only very rarely does it mean that you have cancer. It might simply mean that your sample did not show up clearly and that we need to take another test. This is called an 'unsatisfactory result'. On the other hand, your result could identify some small changes in the cells of the cervix. If abnormal cell changes (known as dyskaryosis) are detected you will have what is called an 'abnormal result'. This is not cancer. However, sometimes cancer will be found when an abnormal test is investigated further.

Can anything be done about abnormal changes?

Yes. Your doctor or nurse will explain what needs to be done. They may ask you to come back for more cervical screening tests because the abnormal cells may return to normal by themselves. However they may ask you to go to hospital for a closer examination which is called 'colposcopy'. Treatment, if it is needed, is a minor procedure and is usually done in an outpatient clinic which means you will not have to stay in overnight.Accordian content

Can cervical screening prevent cancer?

Regular cervical screening every three or five years is the best way to detect changes to the cervix early. Early detection and treatment can prevent cancer developing in around 80% to 90% of cases. For more information and support visit Cancer Screening or NHS Direct.Accordian content

Breast Awareness

What is breast awareness?

Breast awareness is the process of getting to know your breasts and finding what is normal for you. When you know how your breasts normally look and feel you will be the first to notice any changes. Most changes are harmless but should be checked by a doctor. These are seldom cancer but even if it is early detection means simpler and usually more successful treatment.

When should I check?

This is up to you but you have probably noticed that your breasts change during your monthly cycle. Many women have lumpy and tender breasts just before a period. After the menopause normal breasts feel soft and less lumpy.

What should I check for?

Remember you are looking for any change in your breasts which is unusual for you.

Women aged 50 to 64

Do not miss your chance to have a free mammogram (breast X-ray). Make sure you accept your invitation from the NHS Breast Screen Programme.

Women over 64 years

You may request a free mammogram from the NHS Breast Screening Programme.
Telephone 01604 545636.


Cervical Screening

A recall system exists to call eligible women between 25 and 65 years for a cervical smear every three years. Appointments are available with the Practice Nurse.

Routine Breast Screening

Arranged by the Health Authority is available to all women between 50 and 65 years of age but 'breast awareness' is encouraged in all women. 

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