Cervical screening: what to expect during an appointment

Cervical screening tests do not test for cancer, but are done to help prevent it

Cervical screening can be a daunting prospect for some, and those with certain medical conditions may find the process more uncomfortable than others.

But for those who need to be screened, cancer charities and those living with endometriosis have offered their tips and advice for those concerned about their appointment.

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Cervical Screening Awareness Week, which ends on Sunday, June 26, has focused on highlighting the screening process.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Experts have shared tips for those who need to attend cervical screening appointments.

What is Cervical Screening?

Cervical screening (a Pap test) checks the health of your cervix. It’s not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer.

Screening is carried out between the ages of 25 and 64 with letters sent inviting those eligible to make an appointment.

At the screening appointment, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix and the sample is then checked for certain types of HPV which can cause changes in the cells of your cervix called “high risk” types of HPV.

If these types of HPV are not detected, you do not need further testing.

If these types of HPV are detected, the sample is then checked for any changes in the cells of your cervix. These can then be treated before they have a chance to develop into cervical cancer.

You will receive your results by mail, usually about two weeks after your appointment, which will explain the sequence of events.

Cervical screening is for people who do not have symptoms. Therefore, if you notice any changes that are unusual for you, such as vaginal bleeding after sex, do not wait for your next screening appointment, but talk to your doctor instead.

What can I do if I’m worried about my cervical screening appointment?

Karis Betts, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Some people may find cervical screening uncomfortable or painful, but there are ways to improve your appointment.”

She suggests asking for a longer time slot when booking an appointment so you can discuss any concerns you may have with the nurse.

Ms Betts added: ‘Remember you are in control of your date. You can ask the nurse to stop at any time, for a different size speculum, or to try lying down in a different position.

For those going through menopause, she suggested talking to your doctor about a short course of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can help relieve vaginal dryness and make the test more comfortable.

For people with learning disabilities attending a cervical screening test, Research against cancer has further advice, including guidance for caregivers and guardians.

The charity has lots of information about cervical screening that you might find useful, including a blog with helpful tips and a number of support services including:

  • a free helpline on 0808 802 8000
  • an online forum
  • an online service Ask the Expert

What if I have endometriosis?

Although some find cervical screening painful with a speculum, the charity Endometriosis UK said that if you have endometriosis – where tissue similar to the lining of the womb begins to grow in other places – the test may be more painful than normal.

Indeed, “if you have endometriosis that affects your pelvis, it can cause scarring and inflammation, which means inserting a speculum can cause pain by pulling or stretching the affected area which could be in front of the cervix, to the side or behind it,” the charity said.

For those who suffer from endometriosis, it is suggested that they let the nurse know that they have the condition and that it might be painful for them, so that the right steps can be taken to make the experience easier.

The charity added: “People with endometriosis should not be discouraged from attending their cervical screening – the person carrying out the screening is there to help and make it as comfortable as possible.”

Endometriosis UK recently asked for people’s experiences on Instagram. Here’s what people with endometriosis who had their cervical screening had to say:

  • Explain that you have endometriosis, what it is, that you mind finding the procedure painful, and using a smaller speculum, more water or gel
  • Ask the nurse to talk to you about the process and share your concerns before the test
  • Ask to make a longer appointment
  • Ask if you can take someone with you
  • Try lying on your side during the test
  • Breathe through and ask the nurse to be as slow and gentle as possible
  • Prepare a heating pad after the test

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