CervicalCheck: Everything you need to know about your free cervical screening if you're turning 25
Screening is due to resume in July following COVID-19
By Clodagh Meaney
If you're turning 25, you're eligible to enrol in CervicalCheck, a free cervical screening programme available to people with a cervix aged 25 to 60 living in the Republic of Ireland.
Here's everything you need to know about registering for the programme, how to book an appointment, and what to expect at your screening.
What is CervicalCheck?
CervicalCheck is a national cervical screening programme managed by The National Screening Service and funded through the Health Service Executive.
A cervical screening, or smear test, is a test to check the health of your cervix.
While a smear test is not a test for cancer, it can help you prevent cancer from developing.
Tests look to see if you have any of the high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause cancers.
How do I register?
You can register for the service by visiting Cervical Check's website where you can fill in your details. Once you've registered, when you turn 25, you will receive a letter from the service inviting you to your first screening.
Every three years you will be automatically issued a letter to remind you to book an appointment.
How do I organise my screening?
Once you receive your letter you can contact a GP or Clinic registered with CervicalCheck and request a smear test.
How can I prepare for my appointment?
If you have never had penetrative sex before, or have a vaginal condition such as vulvodynia or vaginismus, a smear test may be uncomfortable. It is best to discuss this with your GP or a nurse before your appointment.
Bring your PPS number and CervicalCheck letter with you to your appointment.
For ultimate comfort, wear loose fitting bottoms and a long jumper or a skirt.
What can I expect to happen at my appointment?
At your appointment, before you get started, a nurse or doctor will tell you about the screening as well as its benefits and limitations.
They will ensure you understand the information you are given and double check that your name, address and other details are correct. They will then ask you to sign consent forms consenting to the test and allowing CervicalCheck to receive, hold and exchange your personal information with those who deliver the programme.
You will then need to undress from the waist down and lie on a bed. If you're wearing a skirt you can usually remain dressed, but will need to remove your underwear.
The practitioner carrying out the test will then ask you to lie back, with your legs bent, feet together and knees apart.
To obtain your cell sample, the practitioner will insert a speculum into your vagina to hold the walls of your vagina open. They may use a small amount of lubricant to do this.
Opening the speculum inside your vagina will allow for the practitioner to obtain a cell sample to be retrieved using a small brush.
They will then place the sample into a pot to send to the laboratory for testing before removing the speculum and leaving you to get dressed.
What happens if HPV is detected?
If HPV is detected, there are two possible results:
HPV with no abnormal cell changes or HPV with abnormal cell changes found.
HPV with no abnormal cell changes, shows that you have a HPV infection, but it does not seem to be causing changes to the cells in your cervix.
A repeat test can be arranged for 12 months time, this will give the body time to clear the HPV infection, and a follow up exam will check to see if the infection has gone.
If the repeat test shows you still have HPV, you will have a follow-up test called a colposcopy. A colposcopy is a more detailed look at your cervix. It's similar to having cervical screening.
Having HPV does not mean you have cervical cancer. In most cases, it takes about 10 to 15 years for cervical cancer to develop. Cervical cancer is a rare outcome of a HPV infection.
HPV with abnormal cell changes shows you have a HPV infection and abnormal cells in your cervix.
In this case, you will be referred for a follow-up test called a colposcopy. This test will look at your cervix and cells in greater detail.
What if my results are normal?
If your results are normal will you will receive a letter with your results which will require no further action. Three years later you will be automatically invited back for another cervical screening. Once you turn 30, if your results continue to come back as normal you will be screened once every five years.
Are there any other possible outcomes?
The fourth and final outcome is inadequate sample.
This just means that the laboratory could not process your test for some reason.
It may be that the sample wasn't suitable for testing, there was inflammation present, there weren't enough cells collected or the cells could not be seen clearly enough.
Other reasons for this include the sample being expired, being mislabeled or damaged.
If this is the case you will have a repeat test in three months so that cells in your cervix have time to regrow.
Inadequate results do not mean something is wrong, however if you receive inadequate results three times in a row you will be referred for a colposcopy.
What are the signs and symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
The symptoms of Cervical Cancer are:
Unusual bleeding from the vagina such as outside of normal periods, during or after sex, after you have been through the menopause.
vaginal spotting or unusual discharge
pain during sex
bleeding after sex
pain in your pelvis
Symptoms of advanced Cervical Cancer:
pain in your lower back or pelvis
severe pain in your side or back
peeing or pooing more often than normal
blood in your pee
swelling of one or both legs
severe bleeding from the vagina
If you are concerned about cervical cancer, contact your GP as soon as you can.
Due to COVID-19, some changes are due to be implemented once the service resumes in July.
Fewer people will be permitted into buildings meaning children may need to be left with a caretaker, there may be longer wait times and you may be asked to wait outside for a longer period of time.
Patients are advised to bring their own pen to sign forms and be prepared to wear a mask during their screening.