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Cancer Prevention: Cervical Screening Explained

Cancer Prevention: Cervical Screening Explained

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening, formerly known as the ‘smear test’, is used to look for high-risk human papillomavirus (hr-HPV) in the cells lining the cervix. HPV accounts for 99.8% of cervical cancers, so routine check-ups are essential in preventing the potential development of cancer.

Being invited for your cervical screening and making an appointment

The first step of cervical screening is getting invited. This will occur up to 6 months before you turn 25, every 3 years from age 25 to 49, and every 5 years from age 50 to 64. Only if a recent test was abnormal will you be invited from 65 onwards. Once invited, you will then need to book an appointment via your GP.

The procedure

Taking a sample during cervical screening is performed by a healthcare professional such as a nurse or GP. A smooth tube, called a speculum, will first be inserted into your vagina so the cervix can be seen. Then, a small brush will be placed at the surface of your cervix, where a few cells will be taken. The sample will then be placed into a specimen pot, where it will be sent to a lab to be tested.

What do my results mean?

You will receive a letter in the post with your results, usually up to 4 weeks later. However, the wait times may vary if there is a high volume of cervical screening tests to be processed in the lab.

HPV-negative result – this means that HPV was not found in your sample and that your risk of getting cervical cancer is very low. You do not need to do anything further at this stage and will be invited for screening again in 3 or 5 years.

HPV-positive result – your letter will give details on what you need to do if HPV is found in your sample. This may include being invited for another screening test in 1 year, or having another test to further examine your cervix (a coloscopy). There are two different kinds of HPV-positive results, these include:

  • HPV positive but no abnormal cell changes: This is when you will be invited again for another smear test after 1 year.
  • HPV positive with abnormal cell changes: This is where you will be invited for a colposcopy.

It is well-known that the process of cervical screening can be tiresome and inconvenient. In fact, in the 2022 NHS England GP patient’s surveys, it was found that 15% of patients were not able to make an appointment when they wanted to, and of those that could, only half were given a time they were happy with. Additionally, there has been a sharp drop in patient satisfaction with the ease of making appointments over the phone.

Graph source: www.england.nhs.uk

Currently, the waiting times for arranging a GP appointment are far from ideal. Additionally, patients also stated that the scheduled times are usually inconvenient, and often require the need to take significant time off from work or other responsibilities to be able to make the GP visit.

What about self-sampling?

Currently, self-sampling is being trialled in parts of England where cervical screening uptake remains low. This involves providing kits that allow you to take the sample yourself at home, followed by sending it via the post for testing in a lab. In studies, self-sampling has been shown to increase the acceptability and feasibility of testing, leading to more women worldwide being able to access vital preventative measures, and therefore reducing their chances of developing cervical cancer. Self-sampling also helps address the inconvenience factor involved in traditional cervical screening, resulting in improved overall access to cervical screening.

Self-sampling: Waiting times

Although self-sampling may address some of the barriers associated with traditional cervical screening, the issue of waiting times for results still persists. Long delays can be detrimental to an individual’s mental health; there is often an increased sense of apprehension, especially if this is associated with a prolonged delay in receiving the results. Whilst this is usually not the case, it is an understandable situation for those who do experience unnecessary result delays to feel its negative impact on their mental health.

Self-sampling: Lost in the post

Furthermore, once at-home tests become available, numerous women have expressed concerns about the follow-up and accuracy of the results, fearing that the kit may become mixed up with someone else’s or lost in the mail. Remember the year when your aunt’s birthday card got lost in the post? Or when that Christmas gift you bought for your special friend or family member never reached them? Many women are rightly concerned about this issue, adding an extra layer of concern that could adversely affect their mental well-being.

So, whilst at-home testing kits are a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to minimise the inconvenience of wait times and the process of sending samples for lab testing.

10zyme: Reimagining women’s health

10zyme is improving cervical screening with a groundbreaking test designed to enhance your experience and put you in control of your cervical health.

Our at-home test AND results kit will be easy-to-use, reliable, and non-invasive, enabling you to conveniently screen for HPV infections that cause cervical cancer in the comfort and privacy of your home, with results available in just minutes.

At 10zyme, our goal is to create a positive change in women’s health. With our innovative diagnostic test, you will be able to proactively manage your health by providing better access to vital preventative measures against cancer.

Explore our website to discover more about our cutting-edge mission, and visit 10zyme’s Education Station to learn more about Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and the associated health conditions, including cervical cancer and other related types of cancer, through our diverse range of engaging and informative blogs, articles, and free downloadable guides dedicated to equipping you with essential knowledge that will help effectively guide your prevention strategy.

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