Screening is the process where you are tested for early signs of a disease, such as cancer, before any symptoms arise.
It works on the premise that prevention is better than cure, as generally if a condition is caught in the early stages of development, treatment is more successful.
Of all the gynaecological cancers, cervical cancer is the only one with a screening programme.
Since 1940, when the cervical cancer-screening test was introduced, this type of cancer has become largely preventable and research has led to the development of a vaccine in 2006.
Screening for ovarian cancer is another service we offer for members of families with high risk. This involves offering high standard ultrasound, biomarkers studies and close liaison with clinical genetics specialists and laboratories.
Give your health the right importance with a specialist consultation
It was discovered prior to 1940 that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer.
The commonly known, Pap test, involves a swab of cells being taken from the cervix, which are later investigated under a microscope. The test looks for any abnormalities and early signs of cancer, or for cells that could become cancerous in the future.
The Pap test is a routine exam, with guidelines as follows:
- Women should not be screened until they reach age 21
- Women 21 to 29 years of age should be screened with the Pap test alone, every three years
- Women over 30 years or age can be screened using co-testing, including the Pap test and HPV testing, every five years
- Alternatively, women over age 30 can be screened using the Pap test alone, every three years
- Women over age 65 should not be screened if they have had at least three negative Pap test results, unless they have a history of cervical pre-cancer
- Women that have received the vaccination for HPV have varying requirements for screening depending on their age.
- Women that are pregnant may also need to follow different guidelines, as may women that have an immune system disorder such as HIV.
Abnormal Pap test results
If the results of a routine Pap test require further testing, you may be referred for a colposcopy test.
The colposcopy uses a colposcope, a thin flexible tube with a bright light and camera to inspect the cervix more clearly. The colposcope can also take further cell samples and biopsy any abnormal cells.
If these cells are deemed cancerous, then further testing and treatment can be discussed with your specialist doctor.
Our experienced gynaecologists can help look after your women’s health
Cervarix, Gardasil and Gardasil 9 vaccines
There are now three vaccines available to protect against HPV, which is the leading cause of cervical cancer and contributes to other forms of gynaecological cancers.
- Targets 2 types of HPV, 16 and 18 – these high-risk HPV types cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers
- Used for females aged 9-25
- Used to prevent HPV-caused cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers
- It is also used to protect against precancerous vulvar, vaginal and anal lesions, as well as genital warts
- Gardasil is used for males and females aged 9-26
- Gardasil 9 is approved for males age 9-15
Because there is only a screening programme for cervical cancer, it is important to recognise early signs and symptoms of gynaecological conditions. These may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Feeling full too quickly after eating, or difficulty eating
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Need to urinate frequently, or urgently
- Abdominal pain, or backache
- Itching or a burning pain of the vulva
- Changes in vulva colour or skin, including rashes, warts or sores
It is important to recognise that these symptoms may not be related to cancer. However, it is always vital to seek specialist advice as symptoms vary for different people. It is a case of understanding your own body and recognising when something is unusual.
Consultation with a gynaecology specialist is the first step to highlighting the cause of your symptoms and taking the right steps to treating them.