Too busy. Too embarrassed. Too painful.
These are the main reasons given by women for not keeping or making their appointment to have a cervical smear. Like Breast Screening, that I covered in a previous post, it’s something we don’t enjoy but it’s something that has to be done to help towards our continued good health and the well being of our loved ones.
I dread going; I usually have a pretty good idea when it’s due and when the reminder letter arrives, I try to book the appointment as soon as possible to get it out of the way. I even feel awkward when I book it with the receptionist. It seems to have a kind of aura about it, somehow a bit sordid, not something to talk about. My mother always refers to ‘troubles down below’ if she has any.
So I know I will feel just as uncomfortable when I get there and I almost whisper my arrival to the receptionist lest anyone in the waiting room should hear me. My appointment went something like this:
“Hello, you’ve come for your smear test”
“Yes and I hate it”
“Well I’d be worried if you said you liked it!”
Just how do you start a conversation with the nurse who is about to see a part of your body very few people see (I presume), and supposing you’ve been to the loo recently or worse – need to go to the loo? Or what if you had a bit of hanky-panky the night before or what if it’s been a hot day and you’ve been rushing around? And as for those knickers you’re wearing – you should be ashamed!
There are endless things that might make your check-up less than dignified but it’s not just your dignity that will suffer if you don’t go.
Currently there are 2,800 new cases of and 900 deaths from cervical cancer each year. The Cervical Screening Programme that detects abnormal cells before they become cancerous has saved around 4,500 lives.
Since 2003 all women between 25 & 49 years old are called for a screening once every 3 years, this reduces to every 5 years for 50-64 year olds. However, last year 36% of women aged 25-29 didn’t turn up for their first test and given this is one of the highest risk groups, this is a major concern.
Just this week I had mine done. Yes I was embarrassed, yes it was uncomfortable and yes I will worry until the test results come through. But given the alternative, I’d far rather go through all of that than risk developing cervical cancer.
Triggered by the human papillomavirus (HPV) that is spread during sexual intercourse, the smear test will detect any changes in the cells of your cervix, thus preventing the cancer from starting.
There are three possible results:
- Normal – 9/10 results = recall in 3-5 years
- Inadequate – 2/100 results = test needs repeating
- Abnormal – 1/20 = repeat test or a referral
But the important point to remember is even if there is an abnormality that doesn’t mean cancer, as minor changes in your cells can go of their own accord over a few months.
Unfortunately the national trend shows there are fewer women going for cervical smears compared with a decade ago and even following the tragic death of Jade Goody who died aged just 27 in 2009, the figures continue to decline especially in the younger age bracket.
- 730 women aged under 35 diagnosed with cervical cancer each year
- 1,200 women aged over 50 diagnosed
- many 50-70 year olds think it is unnecessary
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust was set up by James Maxwell after the death of his wife Jo who died aged 44 in 1999 following years of battling with the disease.
The charity aims to inform and support; their vision is
“To improve the lives of those affected by cervical cancer and to work towards a future where cervical cancer is a thing of the past.”
Their story is a sad but poignant one and you can read Jo’s account of what happened here: http://www.jostrust.org.uk/about-us/our-history/jo-s-story
So have a refreshing shower, put on your best undies and have a treat lined up for afterwards. But whatever else you do, don’t put it off.