What is cervical screening?
Health

What is cervical screening?

What is cervical screening? A cervical screening test (or smear test) is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix. Many women don’t know what exactly this test is for or how it’s conducted, so here’s the information you need to set your mind at rest. 

A smear test is a simple, easy, pain free test which can literally save lives, and should be a part of every woman’s routine health check up. The smear, or more accurately the cervical smear, involves gently inserting a small instrument called a speculum into the vagina, and then brushing a soft brush against the surface of the cervix. This can be very mildly uncomfortable but is extremely quick.

This collects some cells, which are examined under a microscope for changes. If you are having regular smears, i.e. every three years, any abnormalities in the cells will be detected at a very early stage, thus preventing progression to cervical cancer. If abnormal cells are found they can be removed simply with an outpatient procedure.

Testing for abnormal cells

Contrary to popular belief, cervical screening isn’t a test for cancer; it’s a test to check the health of the cells of the cervix. Most women’s test results show that everything is normal, however for around 1 in 20 women the test shows some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

If your test result shows some abnormal changes, you should not jump to conclusions and worry, as most of these changes won’t lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal on their own. In some cases, however, if the abnormal cells may become cancerous, they need to be removed, to prevent cancer.

What is cervical screening?

It’s possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, although the condition mainly affects sexually active women aged 30 to 45. The condition is known to be rare in women under 25.

The aim of cervical screening

The aim of the testing is to reduce the number of women who develop cervical cancer. Since the screening programme was introduced in the 1980s, the number of cervical cancer cases has decreased by about 7% each year.

Being screened regularly means any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing. Unfortunately however, cervical screening isn’t 100% accurate and doesn’t prevent all cases of cervical cancer.

How to make an appointment?

CervicalCheck – The National Cervical Screening Programme’ offers free tests to all women between the ages of 25 and 60.

The overall aim of the programme is to reduce the incidence and the death rate from cervical cancer in Ireland by providing free cervical screening.

  • Women aged 25 to 44 will be offered a free smear test every three years
  • Women aged 45 to 60 will be offered a free smear test every five years
  • A woman may also be advised by CervicalCheck to attend for additional smear tests if further investigation is needed, as recommended by the designated cytology laboratory through the programme

The programme is based on:

  • Women attending their registered smeartaker following receipt of a CervicalCheck invitation or re-call letter
  • Women attending their registered smeartaker for a repeat smear test as advised by a letter from CervicalCheck
  • Women attending their registered smeartaker without a CervicalCheck invitation or re-call letter but who are eligible for screening in accordance with the Programme’s Eligibility Framework

Most women choose to go to their GP practice, although it may also be available at a well woman clinic or sexual health clinic. Screening is usually carried out by the practice nurse. You can ask to have a female doctor or nurse.

You will be advised to try and book an appointment during the middle of your menstrual cycle (usually between 10 to 14 days from the start of your last period), as this can ensure a better sample of cells is taken. It’s best to make your appointment for when you don’t have your period.

If you use a spermicide, a barrier method of contraception or a lubricant jelly, you shouldn’t use these for 24 hours before the test, as the chemicals they contain may affect the test.

What to expect during a smear test?

The test usually takes around five minutes to carry out. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and lie down. The nurse will gently put an instrument, called a speculum, into your vagina. This is to hold the walls of the vagina open so the cervix can be examined. A small soft brush will be used to gently collect some cells from the surface of your cervix.

What is cervical screening?

Some women may find the procedure a bit uncomfortable and even embarrassing, although most women don’t find it painful. If, however, you find the test painful, do not hesitate to tell the nurse, as they may be able to reduce your discomfort. It is advised to try and relax as much as possible, because being tense makes the test more difficult to carry out. Taking slow, deep breaths will help.

The cell sample is then sent off to a laboratory for analysis and you should receive the result within two weeks.

Screening is a personal choice and you have the right to choose not to attend, however we advise that you avail of this simple and extremely effective test, as it could saves lives.

Information provided by NHS and HSE.

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.

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Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

A
Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.