Cervical Screening & HPV Testing

Cervical screening at HHCC

HHCC Photo ConusltationA cervical screening test is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb (uterus) at the top of the vagina.

Cervical screening can prevent around 75 per cent of cancer cases in women who attend regularly. Screening is one of the best defences against cervical cancer. Since the screening programme was introduced in the 1980s, the number of cervical cancer cases has decreased by about 7% each year.

In around 1 in 20 women the test shows some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

Most of these changes won’t lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal on their own. However, in some cases, the abnormal cells need to be removed so they can’t become cancerous. Detecting and removing abnormal cervical cells can prevent cervical cancer.

Cervical screening cannot prevent all cases of cervical cancer. You should see a doctor for abnormal or unusual vaginal bleeding, especially if it occurs between your periods or after sexual activity.

About 3,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK. It’s possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, although the condition mainly affects sexually active women aged 30 to 45. The condition is very rare in women under 25.

What is a cervical screening test?

A cervical screening test helps detect changes which if left untreated may progress to the development (usually over several years) of cervical cancer. The doctor will insert an instrument, called a speculum, into your vagina. This holds the walls of the vagina open so the cervix can be seen. A small soft brush will be used to gently collect some cells from the surface of your cervix and the sample is then put into a liquid transport medium. At the laboratory this liquid is filtered and transferred to a glass slide which is then assessed by a lab scientist. A sample can also provide an HPV test and a whole host of sexually transmitted disease screening.

What is an HPV test?

HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. There are several strains of HPV, some of which are associated with cervical cancer. An HPV test looks for the presence of particular strains of virus, which would help evaluate other cervical cell changes. If none of the worrying HPV strains is detected, this makes any minor cervical change much less concerning. HPV testing in now done automatically by the laboratory on all our low grade and borderline results, at no extra charge.

If HPV is found in your sample, you will be referred for a colposcopy which is a further investigation and any necessary treatment. If no abnormalities are found, you’ll carry on being routinely screened as normal.

Before the screening test – what should you do?

If possible, try to book an appointment during the middle of your menstrual cycle (usually 14 days from the start of your last period), as this can ensure a better sample of cells is taken. It is possible though to undertake a test at any time when you are not actively bleeding. If you use a spermicide, a barrier method of contraception or a lubricant jelly, you shouldn’t use these for 24 hours before the test, as the chemicals may affect the test.

How quickly will I get my cervical screening result?

We are fortunate in having a laboratory which provides very rapid answers and we undertake to report all our cervical screenings within 5 working days, although in practice we usually have the results within 3-4 days.

How often should I have a cervical screening?

Current NHS guidelines are now to have cervical screening every 3 years up to the age of 50 and thereafter every 5 years until the age of 64. At the Harrow Health Care Centre we are aware that many women would prefer to be screened more frequently. We recommend annual screening from age 25, and 2 yearly screening from age 40 to 64.

Why aren’t woman under 24 being offered cervical screening?

Cervical screening in women aged under 24 is not a reliable way of detecting cervical cancer. There is a poor association with the level of abnormalities suspected on a cervical screening and actual cancer in this age group. Almost all cytological changes in this age group resolve without any intervention. The harmful effects of screening and treating changes in this age group far outweigh any benefits.

Cervarix & Gardasil Vaccines to Protect Against Cervical Cancer:

The Harrow Health Care Centre is pleased to offer both vaccines to protect against cervical cancer.

HPV virus is the cause of almost every case of cervical cancer. HPV virus also causes 50% of ano-genital cancers in men and women and many head and neck cancers. Other sorts of HPV virus cause genital warts (there are over 100 different sorts of HPV viruses). Currently we have a vaccine which protects against 4 sorts of HPV virus. Gardasil will protect against 70% of the viruses which cause cervical and ano-genital cancers and most of the viruses that cause genital warts. In the NHS it is currently offered to girls aged 11 and 12 who receive 2 injections with 6 months apart. Older girls and men are advised to have 3 injections over a 6 month period. The vaccination is one of the safest vaccines available as HPV is a skin infection. It is best administered to youngsters before they become sexually active but still has value for any woman. Boys are vaccinated in some countries, currently in Australia and USA, this will protect them against genital warts, ano-genital cancers and head and neck cancers as well as making them unable to carry the virus which can cause cervical cancer in their partners. We now strongly recommend that boys and girls are offered this vaccine.

Anyone can request the HPV vaccination, please make an appointment with our Nurse. We generally are providing Gardasil but can if requested also access Cervarix.

For frequently asked questions about these vaccines click here.

We also offer a series of Sexual Health tests and Screen packages. For further information click here.

Please see link to Cancer Research UK http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/cervical-cancer/about/cervical-cancer-symptoms for more about cervical cancer and screening.