Cervical Screening Awareness Myth Busters with Philip Toozs-Hobson, Consultant Gynaecologis | News

Cervical Screening Awareness Myth Busters with Philip Toozs-Hobson, Consultant Gynaecologis

For Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, we caught up with Dr Philip Toozs-Hobson, Consultant Gynaecologist at our Women’s Hospital to address some of the myths around having your cervical screening smear, to assess female sexual health.

A new survey has revealed that one in three women don’t get their smear test due to embarrassment (42 per cent of women), with almost two thirds in the South East (62 per cent) sharing that they were nervous when they did attend their appointment.

The drive to encourage women to attend their screening appointments is ongoing to increase attendance and empower women to seek medical assessment every three to five years. To reduce nervousness, women can request a chaperone to sit in with them during their screening and gather greater understanding around how screening can actually help you to prevent the worsening of conditions if abnormalities are detected. Whilst our hospital does not conduct cervical screening, our services support those who have been found to have abnormalities.

If you are still nervous about attending your appointment, read our top five myth busters below to learn more about cervical smears and the detection of cervical cancer.


Myth #1 – Cervical screening is painful.

Dr Tooz-Hobson said: “No, they shouldn’t be, however there are a number of factors which affect this from the experience of the person taking the smear to your ability to allow the pelvic floor to relax so that the speculum (the device used to help visualise the cervix) to be placed easily.

“If the muscles of the pelvic floor contract, then insertion of a speculum becomes more uncomfortable. If it is tricky to visualise the cervix, there are a number of tricks such getting you to sit on your hands to tilt the pelvis or examining you on your side.”

To reduce tension, you can remember that GPs and gynaecologists have carried out many screenings and you will not be under scrutiny during your test. Despite this being an intrusive screening, you can be assured that you are in a safe and judgement-free environment – you can even bring a chaperone or request a second person in the room to ensure that you are comfortable during the procedure.

Tip: You can also wear warm clothing to support muscle relaxation, focus on your breathing during the process and you can even request a smaller speculum if you feel uncomfortable.


Myth #2 - Cervical screenings are only for the detection of cervical cancer?

“No. Absolutely not - in fact the exact opposite. Smears are designed to catch the disease process very early on way before cancer develops. Even if it does show cancer, which is very rare, it will be picking abnormalities up much earlier and therefore usually mean that treatment is easier.”

Making the choice to attend your screening works as a preventative for cervical cancer as you are able to successfully monitor your health, the same way you would for general health check-ups.

With cervical screening helping to prevent 70 per cent of cervical cancer deaths, we’d like to take a moment to encourage women to attend their screening appointments – we want to work towards empowering women to feel safe, supported and comfortable before, during and after their appointments.

Myth #3 - Cervical screening is only for people who have had sex

“Essentially yes (however women can still attend their tests when invited for a health check-up). The smear looks at changes related to a virus known as Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which we all have in various forms. However, with regards to it being in contact with the cervix this is essentially passed from one individual to another during sex.”

95 per cent of cervical cancer cases is a result of contracting HPV, a viral infection of the reproductive tract. Most sexually active men and women will contract this in their lifetime, some may be repeatedly infected with more than 90 per cent of the infected population being eventually clear of the infection – often being harmless and going away by itself.

HPV can be both sexually transmitted and non-sexually acquired. Non-sexually acquired HPV occurs when infected skin or skin squames are in direct contact with broken or macerated skin.


Myth #4 - Abnormal cells mean you have cervical cancer

“90 per cent of cases of cervical cancer are caused by what is called ‘squamous cell carcinoma’. These are where there has been an inoculation with HPV a common virus. In most cases, your body’s immune system will take care of this and its why even in the case of mild abnormal smears the body heals itself and we often just watch for six months before considering treatment.”

Abnormal cells can be healed meaning that if you do get a result that you were hoping to avoid, it does not necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer and our gynaecologists at our Women’s Hospital can help monitor these to track if they do become cancerous and if you require treatment.

Treatment early on can help you to cure cervical cancer early on if cells do become cancerous which is why it’s so important for women to use screening as a chance to monitor your sexual health.


Myth #5 - I’ve had normal smears for all of my smears so far, I won’t have cancer now.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case. The process on average on cancer forming takes several years, however if you have changed sexual partner then there is the potential for new strains of HPV to become inoculated. We are seeing this with many older women who have become divorced and have met new partners.”

Attending all of your screenings will help you to monitor your health throughout your whole lifetime up until the age of 64 as the likelihood of having cervical cancer is incredibly low – however you may be invited back for another test if any of your last three tests detected abnormalities

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