Participation in organized cancer screenings is an effective way to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
In Finland, municipalities provide free cervical cancer screening and breast cancer screening, ie mammography for women of a certain age.
Screening or mass screenings aim to detect cancers at as early a stage as possible, making cancer treatment appreciably easier. Screenings can reduce the use of heavy cancer treatments and above all the number of deaths due to cancer.
Cervical cancer screening
Cervical cancer has precursors that can be screened and treated before the actual cancer arises. In Finland, all women of 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 years of age are invited for screening. In some municipalities screening is also provided for people aged 25 and 65. Screening invitations are sent to women at their homes.
Cervical cancer screening
Invitation sent to your home – it’s possible to change the appointment time
Go for the appointment A nurse will take a smear sample from the vagina, uterus and cervix. This may pinch a little and afterwards there may be some spotting.
During the appointment you will fill in a pre-information form, with questions about when your last period started, what contraception (or hormone replacement therapy) you use, and when you last had a Pap test, and what the result was.
The sample is examined in a laboratory
It will be examined for cell changes (the traditional Pap test) or the Human Papillomavirus, HPV. If there is cancer-related HPV, the screening sample is checked for possible cervical cell changes (Pap test).
You receive the results at home by post
normal result –you will receive the next invitation after 5 years
unclear result or showing mild cellular changes (classification ASC-US, AGC-NOS, LSIL under 30 years of age) or the HPV test is positive, but the Pap test shows at most mild cellular changes, you will receive another invitation after 1 –2 years.
an AGC-NOS result – you either have a colposcopy or new sample after 4-6 months.
If more pronounced cellular changes are found (ASC-H, LSIL, HSIL and AGC-FN, LSIL over 30 years or repeating ASC-US) – you will be invited for a colposcopy.
Colposcopy is an endoscopic examination of the vagina and cervix, which is done at a hospital outpatient clinic. With a colposcopy the cervix is treated with vinegar and a biopsy taken of differently coloured cellular abnormalities.
Even if you receive an invitation for a colposcopy, the reason is almost always to do with mild cellular changes that are not cancerous or even a cancer precursor.
(only after 4c and 4d) If the biopsy shows cancer precursors, you will be invited for a medical procedure where the abnormal areas are removed.
Breast cancer screening or mammography
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among Finnish women. About 5000 women get breast cancer each year.
Breast cancer screening, or mammography, can detect breast cancer at an early stage. About a quarter of cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in a screening study. Breast cancer screening is based on mammography – an x-ray exam of the breasts.
In Finland, municipalities organize free screening every other year for women aged 50-59 and women aged 60-69. Screening invitations are sent to women at their homes.
Breast cancer screening
You receive the invitation at home by post.
If the time is not convenient, you can change it by phone or online.
Breast cancer screening or mammography is a breast x-ray examination where the breasts are compressed between two plates and x-rays are taken from one or more directions.
Two radiologists examine the x-ray images.
If the result is normal, you will be informed by post.
If there are any abnormalities that show up in the x-rays, you will be invited by phone or post to come for follow-up tests.
About two people in a hundred are invited for follow-up testing. Usually, the abnormality is benign in people invited for follow-up tests and no other measures are required.
The follow-up tests include taking more mammograms, ultrasound imaging, draining fluid-filled cysts and imaging (pneumocystography), imaging of a milk duct from which there is discharge using a contrast agent (ductography), and fine needle biopsy (cellular biopsy) and core needle biopsy (tissue sample) or a combination of the two.
If follow-up tests fail to rule out the possibility of cancer, you will be referred for a hospital surgical procedure to finally determine the type of tumour. About 20 per cent of people sent for such follow-up testing are found to have breast cancer.