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Cervical Cancer Screening

A woman’s best protection against developing cervical cancer is having regular cervical smear tests, every three years is recommended. A cervical smear test is a screening test to find abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. Having regular cervical smears can reduce a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer by 90%.

As one of the most preventable of all cancers, there are two things you can do to prevent cervical cancer. These are:

  • having cervical screening test (women aged 20–70 years) every three years and any follow-up treatment if required.

  • having your HPV immunisation (girls from age 11).

Screening and immunisation are the most effective protection against cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is caused by certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common virus passed on by sexual contact.  Most HPV infections clear by themselves, but some high-risk types can cause cell changes on the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer 10 to 20 years after infection.

The two main types of cervical cancer are:

  • squamous cell cancer

  • glandular cell cancer.

Squamous cell cancer is the most common form of cervical cancer and is found in about 80% of cases.  Abnormal changes are found in the squamous cells of the transformation zone, where the vagina meets the cervix.

Glandular cell cancer is found in the glandular cells, sometimes called columnar cells or endocervical cells, which line the cervical canal and is found in about 15% of cases.

Cervical cancer usually grows very slowly, taking 10 or more years to develop. It starts when some cells on the surface of the cervix become abnormal.  In a small number of cases, they may develop into cancer if not treated.  It is impossible to tell which abnormal pre-cancerous cells may become cancer. This is why all abnormal cells must be followed up.

If women have regular smear tests, there is a high chance that any abnormal pre-cancerous cells will be found and treated long before they develop into cancer.