It’s 5 minutes of your life….
You’re not too busy, you do have the time. You keep on putting it off. It can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and scary, but it’s over in a few minutes and there are no lasting effects.
What are we talking about? Having your smear test or cervical screen. The number of women having their smear tests is at a 20 year low, and this year is also the 10th anniversary of the death of Jade Goody who died from cervical cancer in 2009.
So why are we not having our smear tests? It’s complicated, but the fear of the actual smear (and no I wouldn’t list it as one of my most pleasant ways to spend my time either) is for many women the main reason.
The second reason is fear, fear that you may be told you have cervical cancer. It’s true that the screen may detect abnormal cells. These may be pre-cancerous, or they may simply be abnormal cells, but without this information how do you know and how can you access the right treatment?
There is positive news around cervical cancer too, as we have been offering the HPV vaccine as part of our national immunisation programme in the UK since 2008. This vaccine protects against several strains of HPV that cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer. It is now routinely given to girls aged 12-13 before they become sexually active.
Our national cervical screening programme is currently available for women aged between 25 and 64. Which brings me to some less positive news – Women aged 25-29 are the least likely to have their smear test – possibly as they are at an age where cancer seems so unlikely, they’re young, healthy and making their way in the world – but currently this group will not have had the HPV vaccine so it is important to go for your smear test. If you have daughters or friends this age – please tell them to go. Note too that even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine your smear test is still needed – as the vaccine currently will not stop all cervical cancer.
The next age group where we see less people attending is closer to home for me – women over 50. Over 30% of cervical cancer diagnosis is made in women over 50 so the importance of going for your screen cannot be over stressed. So why aren’t we? In part I think we view it as a younger women’s cancer – and that’s not true. The fear and embarrassment around going for your smear test continues, and in addition we have many other things to deal with such as menopause, teenagers and elderly parents to think about – and use as the excuse that we’re way too busy to make that appointment…
Personally, I delayed having my cervical screen for over 4 years, until finally my GP who is also my friend threatened to do it herself or not see me anymore (as a patient I think!) I have a history of abnormal cell results, so this made not going even more stupid – there really isn’t another word for it. I’m a physiotherapist, and I would consider myself fairly assertive and intelligent – and there was no valid reason for me to delay going. So last November I did have my screen, I’m pleased to say it was all fine, yes it was a little uncomfortable, and it took less than 5 minutes in total. Going forward I want to ensure my stepdaughters go for their screening’s too – and it helps to practice what I preach.
So go and have your cervical screen test, you really don’t have a good enough excuse not to.