Women's health issues: Breast and cervical screening

Women, young and old, should practice breast awareness. This involves getting to know what is normal for your breasts in terms of look and texture, so you can spot any changes and get them checked out as soon as possible. In particular, you should look for lumps or thickening of the tissue and the following symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Unusual appearance or sensation
  • 'Tethering' of the skin, as if being pulled from the inside

Remember, most lumps are harmless, especially if you're young, but you should still get them checked by a doctor as soon as possible. The exact causes of breast cancer aren't yet known, but certain risk factors have been identified. They are:

  • Getting older - 80 per cent of breast cancer cases are in post-menopausal women
  • Having no children or children late in life
  • Starting your periods early or the menopause late
  • Taking HRT
  • A significant family history of breast cancer

Under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, all women between the ages of 25 and 65 are regularly invited for a smear test. The system is automated, so as long as you're registered with a GP you should receive a letter asking you to make an appointment.

As a result of research that evaluated the optimal frequency for cervical screening, women are now invited for their first test at 25. They're then invited every three years until the age of 49, and every five years from 50 to 64. From 65 only those who've had recent abnormal tests are offered another test.

You should receive the result of your smear test in writing within six weeks. The result will be either normal (a negative result) or abnormal (a positive result). A small proportion of tests are unable to be completed because of a lack of visible cells on the slide. In such cases, you'll be invited for a repeat test. 

For more information from Breast Screening Wales, visit the following website.

For more information from Cervical Screening Wales, visit the following website.