Nearly 90% of woman who die from cervical
Screening and Testing
Cervical screening is the best way to detect cervical cancer. Planning or going for a cervical screening (previously known as a Pap test or Pap smear) can be daunting. It’s one of the most intimate examinations you can receive from your GP, but it’s also one of the most important.
A cervical screening checks for changes in the cervix or neck of the womb at the top of the vagina. These may be early changes in the cells of the cervix which are caused by a viral infection called the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), that in rare cases may over time become cancerous cells. Cervical screenings are vital in recognising these early changes, as at the early stage they can be treated very easily and prevent the onset of cervical cancer. By having regular screenings, you can help prevent up to 90% of the risk of cervical cancer.
The current guidelines recommend that every woman from the ages of 25-64 who has ever had sex should have a cervical screening every three to five years dependent on age , whether or not they are still sexually active. These recommendations also apply to women who have been vaccinated against HPV and have had the cervical cancer vaccine. The vaccine protects against the two most common strains of HPV, but not all, so screenings remain your best protection against cervical cancer. Your GP or practice nurse should let you know if you need to have them more regularly.
My first pap/smear test
The first time I heard the words cervical cancer was when I was sitting in a Sexual Health class in high school at a talk that lasted around 20 minutes, a shamefully short amount of time for something that is so serious. The school were the first of a few in the East of England to offer the HPV Vaccine that would help eliminate a young girls chances of getting cervical cancer. I decided that I would go ahead and have the vaccine, after all if it was eliminating my chances of getting cervical cancer I couldn’t see why I wouldn’t. Plus I was extremely lucky to be in a position where the vaccine was made accessible to me.
After I had the vaccine there wasn’t much mention of cervical cancer until 6 months before my 25th birthday. I received my first appointment letter though the post and knowing how important it was to have a test, 3 days later my appointment was booked.
On the lead up to my appointment I went out with a group of friends, 2 of which had received the letter’s to book their appointment but hadn’t actually booked it yet. We spoke about the reasons for them not booking it and they both agreed they were just ‘too embarrassed’. Something which had never bothered me but seemed to effect a lot more woman than I originally thought.
With smear tests in England being at it’s lowest in nearly 20 years, I knew that no matter how ’embarrassing’ or ‘scary’ the test might seem that those few seconds of my life would be incredibly important. Lots of people don’t realise that while the vaccine is safe and effective it protects against 70-80% of the risk of cervical cancer not all of the 15 virus types, so even after having the HPV vaccine, it’s still important to have Pap Tests.
My test day arrived; the appointment was booked for 9 am and by 9.09 I was out of the doctors and walking to work. It was even quicker than I thought and my nurse was so friendly!
The nurse knew that it was my first test so talked though the process of collecting the cells and how long it would be until I received a letter containing my results. She asked a few more questions regarding any contraception and my periods, nothing too confusing! I had actually decided to wear a dress for the test, a little tip I picked up online to make the whole process even quicker. I laid down on the bed and the test began, she talked to me throughout the whole process and told me to tell her if at any point I felt uncomfortable. Yes it was a slightly strange sensation but at no point was it painful and it was over in less than a minute.
I walked out of the doctors so confused as to why there is so much stigma around pap tests and why someone would ever put off booking a potentially lifesaving appointment. I instantly messaged my group of friends telling them my experience and encouraging them to book theirs. The text took me longer to write than the pap test itself!
Around 10 days later my test results came back all clear. In 3 years’, I’ll have another letter asking me back for my second pap test and to be honest with you, if it means I’ll have some peace of mind that everything’s ok I’ll be booking straight away.
I can’t stress enough how important these tests are, if you’re putting off booking a test because you’re worried about going alone then you can take someone with you. If you’re nervous you can listen to some music or if you’re worried about a nurse seeing your lady bits then, don’t, they see them every day and really do not care if you’ve had a wax or not.
I hope that my story encourages you to book your appointment, after all, it could save your life.