Cervical cancer prevention: Everything you need to know about cervical screening

Attending your regular cervical screening appointments is the best way to catch any early changes in your cells and prevent cervical cancer. Although you might be nervous about attending your screen, it’s so important that you get yourself regularly checked.

Here, Dr Jane Benjamin, Women’s Health GP at Roodlane Medical, part of HCA Healthcare UK, answers the top questions related to cervical screening, including what you can do to make yourself comfortable and why you shouldn’t be alarmed if your results come back as abnormal.


What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening checks for human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. If you are found to have a high-risk HPV infection, the cells of the cervix are examined in more detail. It isn’t a test for cancer, but instead a test to look for any abnormal changes to the cervix and help prevent cancer. The test will be performed by a qualified nurse or doctor who will take a small sample of cells for examination. This is a quick and simple process and usually only takes a few minutes.

The sample will be collected using a soft brush, which is then sent to the laboratory to be tested for HPV.

Does a cervical screening test hurt?

Everyone’s experience of cervical screening is different, but most women report no pain or mild discomfort. It’s important to know that there are lots of things that you can do to help make yourself feel more comfortable, such as breathing exercise to help you relax, playing your favourite music during the screen or asking for a smaller speculum (a small tube used to gently open the walls of the vagina). 

If you do find that it’s painful, remember that you can ask the nurse or doctor to stop at any point. It’s also good to tell the healthcare professional if you’re feeling nervous so they can try to make you feel more comfortable. 

How often should I go for cervical screening?

Women between the ages of 25 and 49 will be invited to attend a cervical screening every three years (you will usually receive a letter in the post from your GP). Women aged between 50-64 are invited once every five years, and women over 65 are only invited if an abnormality was picked up during one of their last three cervical screenings.

If you're under the age of 25 and have any concerns about your sexual health, HPV or your risk of developing cervical cancer, then you can speak to your GP to have your cervical screen sooner.

At HCA Healthcare UK we offer cervical screening through our GP services as part of a health screen package or as a regular GP appointment. We can also offer HPV vaccine through our GP services.

What happens if my results come back as abnormal?

For most women, it’s likely that your test result will come back as normal, which means that you don’t need any additional tests, but it’s important you still attend your future cervical screening appointments regularly as changes can develop between screens. 

If your results are abnormal, then you might be told that you have HPV or cell changes – but it’s important to know that an abnormal test result doesn’t mean you have cancer. Depending on the result of your test, you may be advised to have a repeat cervical screening appointment in six months or have another test called a colposcopy, which takes a closer look at your cervix. This is usually done in hospital and your appointment will be no longer than 30 minutes.

During your colposcopy, if abnormal cells are found, they can be removed during the procedure for further examination.  

Why is it important to attend your cervical screening appointment?

By attending your appointments, any changes to the cells in the cervix can be picked up, monitored and treated if necessary. If left untreated, these changes can progress and lead to a cervical cancer diagnosis.

Cervical screening is nothing to worry about and it is over very quickly. It’s such an important step that you can take to look after your own health.