Cervical Cancer affects the cervix. The cervix is the lower end of the uterus, where it opens into the vagina. Unlike many other cancers, cervical cancer is not inherited. Cancer of the cervix is cancer of the cells lining your cervix. Cervical cancer develops slowly over a number of years. At first it develops abnormal changes, which are called pre-cancerous, and then leads to cancer itself.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
The symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding. For example, bleeding in between your periods, after sex or after the menopause.
- Blood-stained vaginal discharge that may have a foul smell.
- Discomfort or pain in your pelvis
- If you have any of the above symptoms, get them checked out by your doctor. But remember they can occur in many conditions other than cancer.
Can I be screened for cervical cancer?
Testing for abnormal changes in the cervix when you have no symptoms is called screening. A National Cervical Screening Programme is available in Ireland called CervicalCheck. The Government funds this service and provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60 years. For more details, contact CervicalCheck at 1800 45 45 55
What is a smear test and how is it taken?
A smear test (sometimes called a pap test) is used for cervical screening. It is a simple procedure where a doctor or nurse (smear taker) takes a sample of cells from the cervix (neck of the womb) to look for early changes. A smear test can identify cell changes before they become cancer cells. If these cells are not found and treated, they could become cancerous over time. A smear test is a very simple procedure that takes approximately five minutes. It may be slightly uncomfortable but should not be painful. It is expected that the entire appointment should generally take about 15 minutes in the doctor's surgery or health clinic.
You may lie on your side or on your back for your smear test. The doctor or nurse taking the test will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into your vagina to hold it open. The cervix is the area where the top of the vagina leads to the uterus (womb). The doctor or nurse will use a small, specialised broom to gently brush off a sample of cells from the cervix. This sample is sent to the laboratory to be checked.
Who should have a smear test?
Women aged 25 to 60 should have a regular smear test and continue to have regular smear tests after the menopause. In women under the age of 25, minor changes in the cells of the cervix are common but invasive cancer is extremely rare but it isn't a bad idea to get yourself checked out, no matter your age.
For details of registered smear takers, contact CervicalCheck on Freephone 1800 45 45 55 or visit www.cervicalcheck.ie.
Please have your Personal Public Service Number (PPS No.) with you when you go to have your smear test.
The best time to attend for your smear test is mid-cycle - that is 10 to 14 days after the first day of your period (if you are having periods). If you are not having periods or are menopausal, you can attend for your smear test at any time as long as you are not bleeding. After the first smear test, women aged 25 to 44 should have a smear test every three years. Women aged 45 to 60 should have a free smear test every five years once they have had two 'no abnormality detected' smear test results at three yearly intervals.
I am not sexually active; do I need a smear test?
Your risk of developing Cervical Cancer is lower however that doesn't get rid of the risk altogether.
Should women who have sex with women have a smear test?
Yes, screening recommendations do not differ for women who sleep with women or lesbians regardless of their history with men.