Cervical screenings, also known as pap smears or HPV tests, are a non-invasive procedure that have a key role to play in every woman's healthcare plan.

They're simple to carry out, yet extremely effective at catching the early warning signs of cervical cancer. Early detection opens doors for early intervention, potentially preventing cervical cancer from ever developing past a clump of abnormal precancerous cells.

Despite this, many women don't get screened as frequently as they should for a number of reasons. This blog post will cover the importance of cervical screenings, address the most common roadblocks that lead to women skipping screenings – and what we can do to address this.


Why are Cervical Screenings Important?

The primary purpose of cervical screenings is to identify precancerous cells at their earliest stages. These abnormal cells, if left undetected, have the potential to develop into cervical cancer.

Cervical screenings therefore act as a vigilant eye, spotting these changes before they can progress further. Once identified, these precancerous cells can be treated with highly effective and minimally invasive procedures, translating into a smoother recovery process, reduced risk of complications and overall better health outcomes.

Think of screenings as a protective shield, identifying and addressing potential threats before they become a major battle. By prioritising these preventive measures, you're empowering yourself to significantly reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer altogether.


So, why do some women not get screened as often as they should?

‘Cervical screenings only detect cervical cancer.'

Fact: While they are highly effective in detecting precancerous cells that could develop into cervical cancer, screenings don't diagnose existing cancer. However, early detection allows for intervention before cancer has a chance to develop.


‘If I've never had sex, I don't need a screening.'

Fact: The Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer, can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, not just penetrative sex.  Therefore, all women with a cervix, regardless of sexual history, should get screened according to recommended guidelines.


‘Cervical screenings are painful'

Fact: While some women may experience mild discomfort, a cervical screening is a quick and non-invasive procedure.  Relaxation techniques and open communication with your healthcare provider or GP can significantly improve the experience.


‘Abnormal results mean I have cancer.'

Fact: Most abnormal screening results indicate the presence of precancerous cells, not cancer itself. Early detection and treatment through minimally invasive procedures can effectively address these abnormalities


‘I've been vaccinated against the HPV so I don't need a screening'

Fact: The HPV vaccine is a powerful tool in preventing cervical cancer, but it doesn't guarantee complete protection.  Screenings remain essential to detect any potential HPV infection and address precancerous changes.


‘I'm too young/old for screenings'

Fact: Cervical screenings are available to all women aged over 25 in the UK, and are recommended all the way up until 64.


‘If I've already had a normal cervical smear than I won't need a follow-up for a long time'

Fact: The recommended follow-up interval for screenings can vary depending on your age, test results, and individual risk factors. It's important to follow your healthcare provider's guidance for scheduling future screenings, even if your previous results were normal.


‘I only need a cervical screening if my family has a history of cancer'

Fact: While a family history of cervical cancer can increase your risk, it's not the only factor. All women with a cervix are susceptible to HPV infection and potential precancerous cell development.


Every year there are 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer in the UK

This only underlines the importance of regular cervical screenings – and why the misconceptions surrounding them need to be tackled.

We must all work together to raise awareness, dismantle the beliefs and barriers to cervical screenings and ensure that cervical screenings are available to all women so that we can push that 3,200 to as close to 0 as possible. By making early detection the norm, we can change the narrative on cervical cancer.

For more resources and information about cervical screenings, Gynaecology Care Oxford recommends that you take a look at the Jo's Trust website.