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Women

Women

Cervical Screening (Smear Tests)

Cervical screening is a method of preventing cervical cancer by detecting abnormal cells in the cervix (lower part of the womb). Cervical screening is not a test for cancer, but it is a test to check the health of the cervix.

Most women’s test results show that everything is normal. But for one in 20 women, the test will show some changes in the cells of the cervix. Most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer and the cells will go back to normal on their own. In some cases, the abnormal cells need to be treated to prevent them becoming a problem later.

HPV Vaccination

From September 2019, all 12 and 13 year olds in school will be offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Previously the vaccine was only available to girls however evidence now shows that the vaccine helps prevent both boys and girls from HPV related cancers.

The programme is delivered largely through secondary schools, and consists of two injections that are given 6-12 months apart.

What is Human papilloma virus (HPV)?

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name of a family of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes that line your body, such as those in your cervix, anus, mouth and throat. These membranes are called the mucosa.

There are more than 100 different types of HPV viruses, with about 40 types affecting the genital area. These are classed as high risk and low risk.

How you get HPV?

Types of HPV that affect the skin can be passed on by skin contact with an affected person. The types of HPV that affect the mouth and throat can be passed on through kissing. Genital HPV is usually spread through intimate, skin to skin, contact during sex. You can have the genital HPV virus for years and not have any sign of it.

How HPV can cause cervical cancer?

Most HPV infections are harmless or cause genital warts, however some types can cause cervical cancer. Most HPV infections clear up by themselves, but in some people the infection can last a long time. HPV infects the cells of the surface of the cervix where it can stay for many years without you knowing.

The HPV virus can damage these cells leading to changes in their appearance. Over time, these changes can develop into cervical cancer. The purpose of cervical screening (testing) is to detect these changes, which, if picked up early enough, can be treated to prevent cancer happening. If they are left untreated, cancer can develop and may lead to serious illness and death.

Breast screening

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. About 46,000 women get breast cancer in the UK each year. Most of them (8 out of 10) are over 50, but younger women, and in rare cases men, can also get breast cancer.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme invites over 2 million women for screening every year, and detects over 14,000 cancers. Dr Emma Pennery of Breast Cancer Care says: “Breast X-rays, called mammograms, can detect tumours at a very early stage, before you’d feel a lump. The earlier it’s treated, the higher the survival rate.”

NHS Conditions and Treatments

See the NHS Conditions and Treatments browser for an in-depth description of many common health issues.

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