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HPV, cervical screening and colposcopy FAQs

We know there is a lot of confusion and worry about what coronavirus (COVID-19) means for you and your health. On this page we answer some of the common questions we are getting.

Please remember that this information does not replace advice from your healthcare team.

If you can’t see an answer to your question, our free Helpline is here for you on 0808 802 8000. Our trained staff and volunteers can offer emotional support, talk through your situation, and help you figure out where to get answers.

HPV and coronavirus

If you have HPV, or have had it in the past, you may have questions about coronavirus means for you and whether it will affect you in a particular way. In this section, we answer those questions and try to offer some reassurance.

The current evidence does not suggest that you are more at risk of getting coronavirus if you have or have had HPV. If you are worried or want to talk anything through, we may be able to help – call our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000.

Read about HPV >

 

The current evidence does not suggest that you are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus if you have or have had HPV. 

The people at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus are detailed in the government advice for extremely vulnerable groups: www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19  

Read about HPV >

If your child was offered or was due to be offered the HPV vaccine in the 2019-20 school year, they are eligible to have it elsewhere for free. However, the current government advice is to stay at home. It is best to wait until this advice changes, as the risk of coronavirus is greater than the risk of waiting to have the vaccine. The aim is to keep you, your child and health workers as safe as possible. 

Cervical screening (smear tests) and coronavirus

The Cervical Screening Programmes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been paused due to coronavirus. Some appointments in England are also being postponed. We know this may be worrying, so in this section we talk through why this is happening and answer some questions you might have.

In these unusual circumstances, it is right that cervical screening appointments are postponed. The current pressure on the NHS means many resources are needed to tackle coronavirus. It is also important that you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus. You do not need to do anything except follow the government advice to stay at home. 

Find out what you need to do during the coronavirus pandemic >

We know having an appointment postponed can be worrying. It may help to know that most cervical screening results are clear, which means the majority of people will not have cervical cell changes. Even if cell changes are present, they usually develop slowly – over many years, not months – and cervical cancer itself is rare. 

If you want to talk it through, our free Helpline is here for you – call us on 0808 802 8000

Although many places are trying to process cervical screening results as usual, it is possible there will be extra delays because of coronavirus. The demand on the NHS extends to the labs where samples are tested, so prepare for your result to be later than expected.

Most cervical screening results are clear, but we know that waiting for results can be difficult at the best of times. If you are struggling or have questions, talking to us might help – call our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000

If you have had HPV or cell changes, you may feel particularly concerned about future appointments being postponed. In these unusual circumstances, your doctor has made the decision that it is safer for appointments to be postponed to make sure you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus. You do not need to do anything except follow the government advice to stay at home.

Find out what you need to do during the coronavirus pandemic >

If you are feeling worried, it may help to remember that having HPV or cell changes in the past does not mean you will still have them. About 9 in 10 people get rid of HPV within 2 years and many low-grade cell changes go back to normal without treatment. It’s also good to remember that cervical cancer itself is rare and most people will not develop it. If you want to talk any of this through, our free Helpline is here for you – call us on 0808 802 8000.

Once the coronavirus pandemic is over, the NHS system should still show you as being due for cervical screening. You should get another invite or reminder once things are back to normal. 

If you’re not sure when you should be invited or you haven’t had an invite after a few months, call your GP and ask. They will know best what is happening locally and when you will be able to get an appointment.

Colposcopy, treatment for cell changes and coronavirus

We know that some colposcopy appointments are being postponed due to coronavirus. Any decisions are being made with your individual situation and risk in mind, but we know you may be worried. In this section, we try to answer some questions you might have about colposcopy, cell changes and the impact of coronavirus. 

The current evidence does not suggest that you are more at risk of getting coronavirus or becoming seriously ill with it if you have or have had cell changes or treatment. This includes any grade of cell changes (CIN 1, CIN 2, CIN 3 or CGIN). 

If you are currently being monitored or have had treatment for cell changes, you may be concerned if your follow up appointments temporarily stop. In these unusual circumstances, your doctor may decide it is safer for appointments to be postponed to make sure you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus. If this happens, you do not need to do anything except follow the government advice to stay at home.

Find out what you need to do during the coronavirus pandemic > 

It may help to remember that having HPV or cell changes in the past does not mean you will still have them. About 9 in 10 people get rid of HPV within 2 years and many cell changes go back to normal without treatment. If you have had treatment, it is usually very successful at removing cell changes. It’s also good to remember that cervical cancer itself develops very slowly and is rare, so most people will not develop it at all. 

We know this might not answer all of your concerns, so if you want to talk any of this through our free Helpline is here for you – call us on 0808 802 8000.

If your colposcopy appointment is still happening, your doctor will have made that decision with your health and any risk in mind. If you are worried about going to the hospital, it is best to ring their number and ask what you should do. They will be able to give you advice and support based on your individual situation.

Your doctor at the hospital will be able to answer any questions about your colposcopy appointment best, but we hope the explanation below also helps.

In these unusual circumstances, your doctor may decide it is safer to postpone your colposcopy appointment. It is important that you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus and, at the moment, the risk of you going to the hospital and potentially coming into contact with coronavirus may be greater than the risk of your appointment being postponed. 

It may help to remember that having HPV and cell changes are not cervical cancer. About 9 in 10 people get rid of HPV within 2 years and many low grade cell changes go back to normal without treatment. It’s also good to remember that cervical cancer itself is rare. We know you may still be worried, so if you want to talk any of this through our free Helpline is here for you – call us on 0808 802 8000.

If LLETZ or any other treatment for cell changes has been postponed, your doctor will have made that decision based on your individual situation and risk. It is important that you and health workers are as protected as possible from coronavirus and, at the moment, the risk of you going to the hospital and potentially coming into contact with coronavirus may be greater than the risk of your treatment being postponed. 

We know you may still worry why this has happened and what it means for you. Your healthcare team at the hospital will be able to answer these questions best, but we hope the below offers some reassurance too.

It takes a very long time for cell changes to develop into something more serious – usually between 5 and 20 years. Sometimes low grade cell changes go back to normal by themselves, without treatment. It may also help to remember that cervical cancer itself is rare and most people will not develop it. If you want to talk any of this through, our free Helpline is here for you – call us on 0808 802 8000.

Cervical cancer and coronavirus

This may be an especially worrying time if you are already dealing with a cervical cancer diagnosis or have had cervical cancer in the past. If you don’t see your question here, it may be answered in our more detailed information about cervical cancer and coronavirus.

Read about cervical cancer and coronavirus >

We know it can be worrying when you notice unusual symptoms, and that it may be especially concerning at the moment. If you have symptoms, you should ring your GP surgery and ask for a phone appointment. 

Your GP should assess you over the phone to help decide the next steps. They may ask about your medical history so they can try to understand what may be causing the symptoms. Once they know more about your individual situation, they will decide whether they need to see you at a face-to-face appointment to do a further examination. 

At the moment, the aim is to protect you and health workers from coronavirus, so your GP may decide that you do not need a face-to-face appointment. It is important to remember that cervical cancer is rare, so the likelihood that your symptoms are caused by cervical cancer is low. 

Read more about cervical cancer symptoms >

The current evidence does not suggest that you are at higher risk of getting or becoming seriously ill with coronavirus solely because you have or have had cervical cancer. These treatments should not increase your risk either:

  • Recent or past surgery, including lymph node removal.
  • Current or past radiotherapy or brachytherapy (internal radiotherapy). 
  • Past chemotherapy.

If you have had these treatments, it is still important you follow the government advice to stay at home.

Find out what you need to do during the coronavirus pandemic >

If you are currently having chemotherapy for cervical cancer, you are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. You are part of a group the government call ‘extremely vulnerable people’ and should practice shielding. 

Shielding means staying at home and avoiding face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks, if possible. This may be difficult if you are going to the hospital for chemotherapy appointments – in this case, it is best to follow the advice from your healthcare team.  

Read more about chemotherapy and coronavirus >

Read the full guidance on shielding >

The overarching NHS message is that cancer treatments are still a priority and will continue unless there is no other alternative. There may come a time when it will become necessary to start prioritising patients for hospital treatment.

We know that some regions and hospitals are already having to make these difficult decisions, so it is possible your treatment will be delayed. This decision may be taken if the risk of you being at hospital or continuing with treatment and potentially being exposed to coronavirus is greater than your risk if treatment is delayed. At the moment, the main priority is keeping you and health workers safe and well. 

If you have questions about your treatment, whether you should go to the hospital or anything else, it is best to speak with your healthcare team over the phone. Your healthcare team will be able to advise on your individual circumstance.

We know none of this is easy and that it may feel overwhelming. We are here to support you in any way that we can during this difficult time, so our free Helpline is still open. We may not have all the answers but we can listen – give us a call on 0808 802 8000.

The current evidence does not suggest that you are at higher risk of getting or becoming seriously ill with coronavirus if you have lymphoedema caused by cervical cancer treatment. 

You may be worried because lymphoedema affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. The COVID-19 strain of coronavirus affects the lungs and airways (respiratory system), so you should not become seriously ill solely because you have lymphedema that affects the limbs or pelvis. 

However, it is still important to follow the government advice that is relevant to you – whether that is staying at home, self-isolating or shielding. If you are unsure which advice to follow, it is best to speak with your healthcare team. 

Read the Lymphoedema Support Network’s information >

The current evidence does not suggest that you are at higher risk of getting or becoming seriously ill with coronavirus if you have PRD. However, it is still important to follow the government advice that is relevant to you – whether that is staying at home, self-isolating or shielding. If you are unsure which advice to follow, it is best to speak with your healthcare team. 

More information about coronavirus and cervical health

We have created a online hub about cervical health and the impact of coronavirus. It has detailed information about cervical cancer and coronavirus, blogs with tips to help you manage day-to-day and resources from other organisations and charities that you might find useful.

Visit our hub >

Thank you to our service users who have informed the questions on this page. 

References

For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

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Date last updated: 
15 Apr 2020
Date due for review: 
31 Mar 2021

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