Everything you need to know about cervical cancer screenings

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Health Assured team

14 January 2022

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is quickly approaching. Running from the 17th-23rd of January, the week promotes cervical cancer awareness and prevention.

Unlike many cancers, it is possible to detect the early stages of cervical cancer with a screening. Screenings save thousands of lives every year in the UK, and their importance is not to be underestimated.

If you haven’t yet attended a screening, or you’ve received a letter inviting you to book an appointment, let this article serve as a reminder as to book yours today. You can find out more about the screening process and how it helps prevent cervical cancer below. We’ve also offered a few tips you might find helpful if you’re feeling nervous about your screening.

What is a cervical cancer screening?

During a cervical screening (or smear test), a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix to test for HPV. The test itself usually takes less than 5 minutes, making the whole appointment around 10 minutes long. The screening is usually carried out by a female nurse or doctor.

Before starting, they should explain what will happen during the test and answer any questions you have. The process goes like this:
You'll need to undress, behind a screen, from the waist down. You'll be given a sheet to put over you.

The nurse will ask you to lie back on a bed, usually with your legs bent, feet together and knees apart. Sometimes you may need to change position during the test.

They'll gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina. A small amount of lubricant may be used.
The nurse will open the speculum so they can see your cervix.


Using a soft brush, they'll take a small sample of cells from your cervix.


The nurse will close and remove the speculum and leave you to get dressed.

How can screenings help to prevent cervical cancer?

The cervical screening will test for different types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Certain types of HPV can cause abnormal cell changes in your cervix. If these cells don't get treated, they may turn into cervical cancer. Locating HPV early means that any abnormal cell changes can be monitored. Abnormal cell changes can then be treated if needed, so that they don’t develop into cervical cancer.

It can be difficult to hear the news that abnormal cells have been found, but it’s important to remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean the cells will develop into cervical cancer. These cells can often go back to normal by themselves. But for some women, these cells could develop into cancer in the future if they aren’t treated.

If you find out you need to go for an examination or treatment, this can also be tough news to receive. Try to remember to be patient with yourself during this time. It’s natural to feel confused or worried about the treatment. These feelings will likely ease over time, but if you’re having continued difficulties, your GP can help.

What to do if you’re feeling nervous about your screening

It’s natural to feel nervous about your screening. But don’t let that discourage you from putting it off or avoiding the appointment altogether. The screening process is ultimately a safe way to prevent cervical cancer from developing. And although it might feel uncomfortable for a few short seconds—it’s worth it in the long run. If you’re feeling nervous about your screening, these calming techniques can help:

• Focus on your in-breath and your out-breath.
• Focus on five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
• Relax your body bit by bit. Focus on relaxing the muscles in your face, arms, legs and back.
• Listen to music.

Contact Health Assured for more guidance about cervical screenings: 0844 891 0358

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