Throughout March and April, the NHS is encouraging women to know the facts of cervical cancer and, if they haven't already, to talk to their GP about getting screened for the potentially fatal disease. 

Each year, more than 2,600 women are told they have cervical cancer and, of that number, around 700 will die from the disease. 

In spite of these large numbers, cervical cancer can be found and, more importantly, stopped before it even begins through regular cervical screenings - often referred to as smear tests. 

 

What is cervical screening?

Cervical screening - or the smear test - is a routine health check that looks for potentially harmful cells and abnormal changes in a woman's cervix. 

While it is not a test for cancer, the procedure is able to identify the very early signs and symptoms of cancer, meaning women can begin receiving treatment sooner. 

Women aged between 25 and 64 will be invited to attend regular cervical screenings, with the procedure usually taking place at a GP surgery. 

Invites are sent every three years to women aged between 25 and 49, and every five years for women aged between 50 and 64. 

 

What happens during cervical screening?

The actual cervical screening process usually takes no more than two minutes to complete, although patients will usually be with their nurse for around 10 minutes. 

To start, patients will be asked to undress from the waist down before being given a paper sheet that can be used to cover themselves with while waiting for the procedure to begin. 

Once the patient is comfortable on the bed, the nurse will place a speculum - a hollow cylinder with a rounded edge - in the woman's vagina, which helps the nurse see the cervix. 

A small brush will then be used to gather cells from the cervix.

After this, the speculum will be removed and the sample placed in a pot ready to be sent for testing. 

Results are usually returned within two weeks. 

 

What to do to stop feeling nervous before a smear test

The nurse who carries out the cervical screening can answer any questions, and relieve any concerns, that a patient may have about their appointment.

Other things patients can to do to help stop them from feeling anxious include: 

  • Taking a trusted friend or family member along to the appointment 
  • Wearing a long, loose dress or skirt
  • Taking long, deep breaths to help feel more relaxed 
  • Listening to music through headphones during the actual procedure 

 

Don't ignore the invitation 

Invitations to cervical screenings are sent in the post and should not be ignored. 

Women who may have missed screenings in the past do not have to wait for their next invite letter to book an appointment. 

Patients can arrange a cervical screening by contacting their GP practice in the usual way 

 

More information 

To find further details about cervical cancer, visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-cancer