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Cervical Cancer Screening

The Ministry of Health (MOH), Singapore, together with the Health Promotion Board (HPB), launched the National Cervical Cancer Screening programme in 2004.

What is cervical cancer screening?

Cervical cancer, which is a type of gynaecological cancer, is one of the most preventable cancers, it is 90% treatable when detected early. It occurs when the cells of the cervix grow uncontrollably and form tumours which can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. 

Most cervical cancer has been associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a sexually transmitted infection, which is usually eliminated by the body, but in some women, can linger for years and go on to cause cervical cancer in the future. 

Cervical cancer progresses slowly over a period of approximately 15 years which is why regular screening tests are so effective in its prevention and treatment. The most effective way to prevent cervical cancer is by getting vaccinated against HPV and going for regular screenings. 

Cervical cancer screening consists of two screening tests, these are:

  • Pap smear: also known as a pap test, it checks for any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.
  • HPV test: checks if the cells collected from your cervix contain the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) of high-risk cancer-causing HPV strains. It is more effective than a pap smear as a pap smear can only detect cervical cancer once there are changes in your cervical cells. With the HPV test, HPV strains can be detected even if your cervical cells appear normal.
pap smear

How does cervical cancer screening work?

Both the pap smear and HPV test collect cells from your cervix in the same way, only the subsequent testing is different. 

This is how cells are collected from your cervix:

  • You will need to undress from the waist down.
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent– your legs may be resting on the stirrups. 
  • Your obstetrician  will gently guide an instrument known as a speculum into your vagina.
  • The speculum allows the visualisation of your cervix.
  • A soft brush is inserted to collect cells from your cervix.

In a pap smear, the collected cervical cells are viewed under a microscope to check for any cancerous or precancerous characteristics. 

In the HPV test, the collected cervical cells are tested for the presence of any cancer-causing HPV strains.

Who needs cervical cancer screening?

As part of the National Cervical Cancer Screening programme, all women from the age of 25, and who have ever had sex, are advised to go for regular cervical cancer screening. According to HPB, the following are the ages and recommended screenings.

Age Screening TestFrequency 
25 to 29 yearsPap smear/pap testEvery 3 years
30 years and aboveHPV testEvery 5 years

How do I prepare for cervical cancer screening?

There are several things you should avoid before your cervical cancer screening procedure, to ensure that your results are accurate.

  • Try not to schedule a pap smear when you are having your period.
  • Avoid sex, douching, feminine wash, or spermicidal solutions 1-2 days before the examination. 

What can I expect after a cervical cancer screening?

After a cervical cancer screening, you can go about your normal day-to-day activities. Your samples will be sent to the laboratory for further testing, depending on the type of screening you are suitable for. 

If all is normal, your results will be mailed to you within a few weeks. If anything abnormal is observed in your sample, your gynaecologist will schedule a follow-up and decide on the next steps.

Benefits of cervical cancer screening

  • Short, minimally invasive procedure
  • No downtime
  • Early detection of HPV before it causes abnormal cell changes
  • Finds abnormal cell changes before it progresses to cervical cancer
  • Detects abnormal cell changes early before symptoms appear
  • Improves curability and treatability of cervical cancer

What are the possible complications or risks of cervical cancer screening?

Pap smears are minimally invasive but there are some mild side effects that some women may experience, these are:

  • Discomfort during the procedure
  • Light spotting after the procedure
  • False negative test results
  • False positive test results

Is cervical cancer screening Medisave claimable?

Cervical cancer screening is Medisave claimable at approved centres.

Frequently asked questions

  1. Do I still need to go for cervical cancer screening if I have the HPV vaccine?
    Yes, the HPV vaccine protects you from a majority of cancer-causing HPV strains, but it is not 100%.
  2. I have no family history of cervical cancer. Do I still need to go for cervical cancer screening?
    Yes, all women who have had sex are at risk of cervical cancer, and hence, should go for cervical cancer screening.

3 Mount Elizabeth
#09-08 Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre
Singapore 228510

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