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Cervical Screening

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

Cervical screening, perhaps better known as a smear test checks the health of your cervix.

This is the opening to your womb from your vagina.

A smear test is not a test for cancer but is a test to help prevent cancer.

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites all women with a cervix aged 25 to 64 to attend their smear test as often as every three years.

During the appointment, a small number of cells will be taken from your cervix. The sample is then examined under a microscope for changes to the cells of your cervix. Finding abnormal changes early means that they can be monitored or treated so they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer. You should receive your results by letter within two weeks of your appointment. If the letter takes a little longer to come through, this does not necessarily mean there is anything to worry about.

Undergoing cervical screening is one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer as it checks for abnormal cell changes which, if left untreated, could turn into cancer, but what causes those abnormal cell changes?

HPV

HPV is Human Papillomavirus which is the term for a very common group of viruses. It is contracted from any kind of skin-to-skin contact of the genital area. Most people will get some type of HPV in their lives and nearly all cervical cancers are caused by infections with certain types of HPV.

There are of course other risk factors which could make you more likely to get cervical cancer. These include:-

-Smoking: you are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer than non-smokers.

-Having a weakened immune system.

-Taking the oral contraceptive pill for more than 5 years: though this is not well understood.

-Having more than 5 children or having them at an early age (younger than 17).

However, the cause of cervical cancer is not completely clear. If you have a cervix and have had any type of sexual contact, you could get cervical cancer with 3,000 women being diagnosed every year in the UK.

Undergoing cervical screening is of course your choice and is not compulsory. You may experience some light bleeding or spotting following the test but this should stop within hours. Most women also do not experience any symptoms following their screening.

Women aged 25-49 will be invited for their smear test every 3 years as this is the age bracket where cervical cancer is most common. If you are aged 50-64, you will be called every 5 years and 65 and overs will only be called if 1 in their last three tests were abnormal.

The smear test should take less than 5 minutes with the whole appointment taking around 10 minutes. It is usually done by a female nurse or doctor and if not, this can be requested. They will outline everything that will happen during the test to try and put you at ease.

It is important to note that an abnormal result does not mean you have cervical cancer. Often, an abnormal result will require no further treatment, but you will have another screening within one year as opposed to three to check for any further changes. In some circumstances, you may be referred for a different test to have your cervix looked at more thoroughly (colposcopy).

As cervical cancer often has no symptoms in the very early stages, screening is very important. There is of course no single way to completely prevent cervical cancer, but screening greatly reduces that risk.

The most common symptom of cervical cancer is vaginal bleeding which can occur during or after sex, in between periods or new bleeding after you have been through the menopause. This does not mean you have cancer but you should see your GP as soon as possible to get it checked. If your GP suspects cancer, they should refer you to the hospital within two weeks.

Cervical screening is not always 100% accurate and therefore if you experience any symptoms even with an ‘all clear’ result, you should visit your GP.

Cervical screening, cancer and negligence

When cervical cancer is diagnosed early, the chance of cure is normally good. Mistakes in diagnosis can therefore be very serious. Clinical negligence claims can be brought for:-

-Mistakes in interpreting a smear test (a false negative result can leave abnormal cells to develop into cancer over the following three years).

-Failing to carry out adequate examinations or take an accurate patient history which results in vital information being missed.

-Failing to refer to a Gynaecologist or Oncologist for a second opinion where necessary.

-A mistaken diagnosis which may lead to unnecessary surgery.

If you have experienced the above, you may have a claim in clinical negligence.

Our clinical negligence team deal with many cancer claims and can assist you in bringing a claim to get the closure and compensation you deserve.

Louise Tyler

Posted:

Louise Tyler

Partner

Louise is the Head of the Medical Negligence Team working in this area of law for 25 years. She is a member of the Law Society Clinical Negligence Panel, the AvMA (Action for Victims of Medical Accidents) Panel and been appointed to the Executive Committee…