A cervical screening test helps detect changes which if left untreated may progress to the development (usually over several years) of cervical cancer. A plastic brush is used to sample the cells at the cervix (neck of the womb) 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.
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 on all our low grade and borderline results at no extra charge.
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.
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. A cervical screening (cytology) is not a fool-proof test and there are also some forms of cervical cancer which are not easily detectable with cytology screening. A cervical smear (cytology) will detect approximately 50% of abnormalities. We now have HPV testing as well which greatly increases the reliability of your 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.
A smear test involved the use of a wooden spatula to sample the cells at the cervix and then smear the sample along a slide. That resulted in rather unsatisfactory samples and around 10% of patients had to return for a repeat test. The introduction of liquid based cytology in which the sample is suspended in liquid and then transferred evenly to a slide, provides a much more reliable sample and women are no longer being recalled because of technically unsatisfactory tests. The term smear no longer seems appropriate.
The Harrow Health Care Centre is pleased to offer both vaccines to protect against cervical cancer. The new vaccines provide 100% protection against the two main strains of HPV (Human Papilloma virus) which cause 70-80% of all cervical cancers and one also protects against the other strains of HPV which cause ano-genital warts.
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.
The Harrow Health Care Centre is just 20 minutes from Central London (and 12 minutes from Marylebone to Harrow on the Hill station). We are also approximately 5 minutes walk from Harrow on the Hill tube and bus station.