Many scary things have happened so far in 2017. Not least, for me and many of my friends this is the dreaded year which puts us in the over 25’s category in the X Factor. A proper adult, some might say. As if it wasn’t daunting enough, I recently received my letter.
Now I know what you’re thinking, but unfortunately I am not joining Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this coming September. Instead, I’ve been summoned for my first cervical screening test, which coincides perfectly with Cervical Screening Awareness Week 2017.
Personally, I entirely support the notion that women should be screened. The scheme can prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing1 and saves as many as 5,000 lives each year in the UK2. This is a hugely personal subject and it is important that every woman makes the decision for herself whether the test is right for her. I wanted to explain some of the concerns my friends and I have and hopefully put a lot of the fears to rest.
The word smear
Even though it is not officially known as the smear test anymore, the word is still used. It is totally cringeworthy and does not lend itself to a pleasant experience. In fact, the definition of smear is to coat or mark (something) messily or carelessly with a greasy or sticky substance. Not a nice description really, so maybe we can just refer to it as cervical screening from now on? Agreed.
From talking to my friends about this, embarrassment is one of the main things that could potentially stop someone from having the test. I’ve even found writing this blog to be embarrassing. We don’t often talk about our vaginas and definitely not with strangers. It’s certainly not conventional to let a stranger inspect your private parts.
Things to remember:
- Your HCP is a professional and your health is their priority (and they have probably already seen a fair few vaginas in their time).
- Around half of the people on Earth have a cervix of their own. It’s not uncommon.
- It will be over soon and, all being well, you won’t need to have another one for 3 years.
Is avoiding 10 minutes of embarrassment really worth risking your health for?
There is a lot of hysteria surrounding cervical screening and this can lead to anxiety about the test. Many women, including myself, can be frightened, both about the test itself but also of the possibility of an abnormal result. It is totally normal to be scared of the test, especially when women often describe the test as painful. Negative experiences are easy to find online, which creates more hysteria and can deter women from having the test.
Many of the women I have spoken to have said that the test is not painful, but is uncomfortable. Of course, we will all have different experiences and have different pain thresholds, but for the majority of women the test is not painful. If you are in pain during the test, it is important to communicate this with your doctor or nurse and they will try to make it more comfortable for you.
Ignorance is bliss?
Personally, I don’t agree with this statement. I always like to know everything I can to be able to make informed decisions. I know many women find the prospect of an abnormal result very worrying, and of course it is. The positive is that by taking part in the screening process, you are giving yourself the best chance.
Even if your results are abnormal this does not mean you have cancer! The aim of the cervical screening test is to detect and treat abnormal cells before they develop into cancer. No need to panic.
Of course, there is a small chance you can be diagnosed with cervical cancer. But screening allows it to be picked up at an early stage, giving you the best possible treatment outcomes.
I would much rather be prepared, catch anything early and give myself the best chance I can.
As with most medical procedures there can be risks, but these are primarily associated with the removal of any abnormal cells, rather than with the screening process. You can find out more by following the useful links included below.
the test shouldn’t be ignored. Please make sure you are not forced into a decision and do what is right for you. There is lots of support available if you feel you wish to use it.
For me, the most important thing to remember with cervical screening, or any other routine testing for that matter, is that it is your choice. You can make the right decision for you at the time. As women, we should support each other in the decisions we make and understand that each and every one of us has our own reasons for making a certain choice.
If you are researching the test, talk to your friends and family about their experiences and read up on the medical information. As with any medical decision, you should try to be as informed as you can be to make the best decision for you. Happy Cervical Screening Awareness Week!
2. Peto et al., 2004. The cervical cancer epidemic that screening has prevented in the UK. Lancet 35, 249–256.