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Cervical Screening

Living with abnormal cervical cells

Following diagnosis and/or treatment for abnormal cervical cells, also known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), national guidelines recommend more regular follow-up.

Six months after receiving treatment for abnormal cells in your cervix, a cervical screening test should be carried out to check for any cell changes. If the test shows no or low grade changes, the sample will also be tested for human papilloma virus (HPV). If HPV is not found, you will not need to be screened for another three years. If HPV is found, or more significant cell changes are detected, you should be referred for another colposcopy (NHS guidelines).

If check-ups are normal, women are advised to have screening every year for up to ten years. After this time, if further problems have not occurred, screening tests will return to normal intervals of 3 or 5 yearly.

Several women, who were recently diagnosed, felt anxious about their initial six monthly and yearly screening test results in case they showed that their abnormal cells had returned. Others, who had had normal screening test results for several years, said they now felt confident about the future. Several believed regular cervical screening tests were important in enabling them to feel confident that if any changes were to occur again they would be detected early.

 

After treatment for her abnormal cervical cells, a yearly check up helps her to feel confident...

After treatment for her abnormal cervical cells, a yearly check up helps her to feel confident...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 47
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I think it's a case of taking each year as it comes but the more I'm getting normal smears the more confident I am that everything is alright in that area and I'm quite sure that it will be alright. I'm confident that everything is there that should be there and I'm getting the attention that I should be getting.

So what are the things that make you feel confident?

The fact that I'm having the yearly check-up is the most important thing and I know that if I was at all worried, each time I'm told "If there's anything at all worrying you just get in touch with us and we'll get you back up to the hospital."

Most women do not have ongoing problems after their diagnosis and treatment for abnormal cervical cells. However, some women had recurrences of abnormal cervical cells and various treatments over a period of many years. Annual cervical screening tests and colposcopy examinations had become a part of their life.

 

Although it didn’t interfere with her life, she is always aware of when her next cervical screening test is due.

Although it didn’t interfere with her life, she is always aware of when her next cervical screening test is due.

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 25
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When the smears were fine, obviously you just, it's an inconvenience, no it's not even an inconvenience but you are aware that you, every March I have to have a smear. And I'm sort of, I would be making the appointment rather than wait for the appointment to come to me. So I suppose in as much that I'm aware of it. But it doesn't interfere with my life. 

The abnormal smears that I've had had disappointment, especially with the second one thinking that it had been sorted and there wasn't any more problems and it had been quite a long period of time, it was the disappointments of here we go again. Not because it's, it's just an inconvenience really and it does weigh on your mind, I mean obviously it is because you sort of think oh they could be pre-cancerous and as you get older you sort of, you get more responsibilities and you think how it would affect people around you, if only if you've got to go and have an operation. 

And I suppose it's something that's there, you don't, I wouldn't say you live with it, it's not as if it's a huge thing you have to live with, there's far more inconveniences in life really, but it is something that always you're aware of. And as I said I suppose I was aware of it, the fact that every year I knew I was due for a smear and I made sure I'd got my appointment.

A few who returned to having three yearly screening tests after a period of annual screening tests said they felt less secure about their health than when they were having more regular check-ups. One woman had paid to have a yearly screening test through a private, non-NHS organisation because she wanted the reassurance that her cervix was healthy and there were no further problems.

Being diagnosed with abnormal cervical cells had been a shock for many women and many considered themselves lucky to have access to cervical screening which had detected the changes in their cervix early enough to enable treatment and before it developed in to cancer. Women who attended regularly for screening said it had confirmed their practice of having regular screening. Others, who had been more haphazard about their screening, said that their diagnosis had led them to go regularly for screening.

Being diagnosed with abnormal cervical cells had led to a change in priorities for some women, either in realising how important their health was, or by making changes to their work/life balance.  After their diagnosis some women felt more able, than they had been before, to discuss gynaecological matters openly with their friends or family and to encourage others to go regularly for cervical screening.

 

After she was diagnosed with abnormal cervical cells, she reassessed her work/life balance and...

After she was diagnosed with abnormal cervical cells, she reassessed her work/life balance and...

Age at interview: 56
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 55
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I don't think I said much but I think I was anxious yes, I was a bit anxious so I guess you could say when I opened the letter I had a big grin on my face. But it does bring you up short, I mean one of the, to be honest one of the consequences of, of the initial sort of discovery was that I thought long and hard about work/life balance and what I do. And, because I've a fairly stressful occupation and work relatively long hours and I had been thinking, because of my age, I had been thinking about it's time to sort of think about taking it more easily.

But, but that Christmas you know my husband and I we talked over it and at that point particularly I didn't really know what the outcome was going to be but I thought well, you need to, the importance of getting the balance right.So as a result when I went in, back to work in January after that Christmas break I, I told my employers that I wanted to go part time because of what I do that actually hasn't come to fruition, it won't come to fruition until this coming July, but that was definitely something that helped me make up my mind, that I needed to adjust things.

 

She now feels more able to speak openly about gynaecological problems with friends.

She now feels more able to speak openly about gynaecological problems with friends.

Age at interview: 51
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 46
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It's made me less, less afraid of hospital procedures to a great degree and also more likely to be able to discuss with women friends. You know I'm of a certain age and a lot of my friends are also and they're now beginning to experience the same symptoms that I did and I feel as though I'm relaxed enough to be able to say "This is what happened to me and sort of don't, don't not go to hospital, don't not go to your GP if there is even the slightest abnormality in your cycle, of any description, just go and see what it is." I feel more confident saying that because I've never, I mean I don't hide it away anyway but I feel more inclined to be able to speak to people about it, to broach the subject myself if they're kind of skirting round it you know "I've got stomach ache," or whatever, I'm more inclined to be able to say "Well is it do with your cycle, whatever?" And lead it on from there.

 

She now encourages young woman in her workplace to go for regular cervical screening tests.

She now encourages young woman in her workplace to go for regular cervical screening tests.

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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Yes I'm quite an authority on cervical smears and so I work with lots of young girls and so they, or we all share experiences and I've got the longest tale to tell and I say, and I say "Well look I'm living proof that 20 years on I'm fine, so go and have your smears," and I sort of say that and pass on my knowledge as it were to young girls in my office. And so I think that's one of the ways is the going through something like that enables you to give other people the information, to pass on your experience so they're not so frightened. 

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Last reviewed October 2015.

Last updated October 2015.

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