We're back with Dr. Nick this week for the continuation of our Women's Health Series. This week, Nick is looking at cervical cancer and the screening process...
If you’re a woman over 25 years of age and registered with a GP, you may have received an invitation to have a smear test. For those of you who don’t know, a smear test is a screening examination performed on the cervix to look for any changes in the cells, that may later lead to cervical cancer. Though not a pleasant examination to have (so I’m told), it is very good at detecting early changes and so, preventing cancer.
The examination will look at the cells directly to detect any pre-cancerous changes, but will also be tested for HPV. This is known as Human Papilloma Virus and has been directly linked to cervical cancer. The virus is passed on by intercourse, though as there are no symptoms you will not know if you have the virus. In the majority of cases, the body manages to get rid of the virus within a couple of years, without any treatment. Just as a side note, lesbian women can also transmit the virus.
The very close association of HPV and cervical cancer, is the reason why an HPV vaccine for girls over the age of 12 has been introduced recently. So far results look promising.
Other factors that increase your risk of cervical cancer are smoking (which increases your risk twofold), a poor immune system and there is a weak link between the combined oral contraceptive pill if taken for more than eight years.
So, what results might you receive and what do they mean?
The results will mention the term dyskaryosis, which means the changes seen within the cells and may also mention Colposcopy. This is an examination done in hospital that involves camera inspection of the cervix and a biopsy.
The screening process is going to change soon and the first step will be HPV testing. If this is negative the cells will not be further analysed and a return to three year recall. If the result is positive the cells will then be analysed for dyskaryosis.
Although the process of cervical screening is very effective, there will be women who are not picked up by the system, or the risk of getting a false negative test (reported as negative but actually positive). So just to be aware, the signs of cervical cancer to look out for include:
- Bleeding after sex or pain during
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding in women after menopause
- Vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odour
So when you get that text message or letter from your GP asking you to have a smear test, please don’t ignore it. As the common adage goes “prevention is better than cure”.
This blog is written by friend of Neat, Dr Nick Ambatzis MB BS, MSc (SEM), MRCGP.
Nick is a General Practitioner specialising in Sports and Exercise Medicine. He completed his medical degree at University College London Medical School in 2002. Nick worked for almost ten years as a junior surgeon and spent three years in Trauma & Orthopaedics. He attained a Masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine and subsequently trained as a GP practising in Paddington.
From an early age, Nick has been both a keen cross-country runner and water-polo player, having competed at college level. Nick is also an accomplished ultra-marathon runner, having competed in many cross-country and cross-alpine races, ranging from 50-100 miles. He has also been a Crossfit and Crossfit Endurance coach.