Coronavirus: it's disrupted pretty much everything, from our jobs to our finances to Glastonbury (two years running 😫). And if you're due a smear test, you might have found that lockdown has complicated that, too.
Cervical screenings (AKA smear tests) check the health of your cervix, the opening to your womb from your vagina. It's a test that helps prevent cervical cancer, and women aged 25-49 are invited to have a smear test every three years.
In the first lockdown, cervical screening programmes were paused in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland due to coronavirus, while some appointments in England were also postponed. The programmes are back up and running now, but you might still find it harder to get an appointment than usual because of pressures on the NHS. Alternatively, you might find that you feel nervous about entering a medical environment at the moment.
Depending on your situation, it's natural for it to feel worrying, so we asked Imogen Pinnell, health information manager at Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, to shed some light on why this has happened, and what to do if you've been affected by the changes.
Why might it be harder to get a smear test appointment now?
"In these unusual circumstances, some cervical screening appointments may be postponed," advises Pinnell. "The current pressure on the NHS means many resources are needed to tackle coronavirus. It is also important that you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus. However, if you have been invited to make cervical screening appointment, that’s because your GP has put safety measures in place to protect you. You do not need to do anything except follow the government advice. A cervical screening appointment is a valid reason to leave your house, even during lockdown.”
Should I be worried about if my smear test is postponed?
Having an appointment postponed can be a source of concern, but be reassured that most cervical screening results are clear, which means the majority of people will not have cervical cell changes, says Pinnell. "Even if cell changes are present, they usually develop slowly – over many years, not months – and cervical cancer itself is rare."
What should I do if I'm waiting for smear test results?
Most cervical screening results are clear, but waiting for results can be difficult at the best of times. Luckily, lots of places are trying to process smear test results as usual, but there might be delays because of coronavirus. "The demand on the NHS extends to the labs where samples are tested, so prepare for your result to be later than expected," warns Pinnell.
I have had HPV or cervical cell changes in the past, and my next cervical screening has been cancelled. Is it safe to wait?
If this sounds like you, you might feel particularly concerned about future appointments being postponed. "In these unusual circumstances, if your doctor has made the decision that it is safer for appointments to be postponed to make sure you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus, you do not need to do anything except follow the government advice to stay at home," says Pinnell.
But if that's not exactly reassuring you, remember that having HPV or cell changes in the past does not mean you will still have them. "About 9 in 10 people get rid of HPV within 2 years and many low-grade cell changes go back to normal without treatment," continues Pinnell. "It’s also good to remember that cervical cancer itself is rare and most people will not develop it."
When will I be able to book another smear test?
If your appointment has been subject to any delays, the NHS system should still show you as being due for cervical screening. "You should get another invite or reminder once things are back to normal," says Pinnell. "If you’re not sure when you should be invited or you haven’t had an invite after a few months, telephone your GP. They will know best what is happening locally and when you will be able to get an appointment."
Am I at higher risk of coronavirus if I have or have had cervical cell changes or treatment?
The current evidence says no. Phew. "If you're in this situation, you're not more at risk of getting coronavirus or becoming seriously ill with it, based on the best information we have right now," says Pinnell.
If you want to talk any of this through, call Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust's free helpline on 0808 802 8000.
Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is running its #SmearForSmear campaign again this year to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screenings. You can find more information about how to take part on the website.
The latest issue of Cosmopolitan UK is out now and you can SUBSCRIBE HERE.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like