Among women aged between 35 and 64 years, the risk of cervical cancer is about 60–80% lower in women who are screened than in unscreened women, and the benefit increases with age. Overall, it is estimated that cervical cancer screening saves about 4500 lives each year.
Cervical smearing involves taking a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix, which are then examined under a microscope to detect any abnormal cells. These abnormal cells are not cancer cells, but they could develop into cancer if they are left untreated. Depending on the result of the screening test, the cells may be tested for HPV. If abnormal cells are found in the screening test, you may be offered another test, called a colposcopy, to examine the cervix more closely. Depending on the results of this test, your doctor may suggest that the abnormal cells should be removed, which is usually done during a second colposcopy.
Colposcopy is an examination of the cervix using a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope. This is usually done when abnormal cells are found on a cervical smear test. Such cells are relatively common – occurring in about 1 in 10 cervical smear tests – and usually do not indicate a serious condition. However, it is important to rule out the possibility of cervical cancer, or to arrange treatment as soon as possible if cancer is present.
A colposcope may also be used to take a sample of tissue (a biopsy) from the cervix, or to remove any abnormal cells. The procedure takes about 10-15 minutes, and does not usually cause any pain, although taking a biopsy may cause some brief discomfort.
A colposcopy examination can be arranged through London Gynae Cancer Care in cases where abnormal cells are found in a cervical smear. We can also perform investigations, or arrange appropriate referrals, for women with symptoms that might indicate gynaecological cancers, such as irregular bleeding from the vagina, or unusual or changing lumps in the vulva.