The 15th to 21st June is annual cervical screening awareness week. The important week encourages raising awareness for early prevention of cervical cancer and also the overall ease of the screening process.

During the pandemic, naturally it will be common for individuals to place their smear test letter in a long forgotten drawer. It is crucial that you retrieve that letter, make an appointment to dust out the cobwebs and ensure that you’re gyney-healthy. 

Why get a smear test?                             

A smear test is a free health test that an individual with a cervix (females, trans men and non-binary) from the age of 25-64 need to have. A smear-test checks for a virus called high risk human papillomavirus (HPV) and also any changes in the cervical cells. If any changes or high-risk HPV is detected you can be given the treatment that you need early. 

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus or HPV is a common virus that is passed on through sexual contact and can affect the skin. 8 in 10 people will get HPV so don’t be worried if you have it, it’s very common and is treatable. HPV is split into two types: low risk and high risk, about 13 types of high risk are linked to cancer. It is known that nine in 10 people get rid of HPV in two years, often your body will get rid of it itself. However, it is important to have your screening done to check for any high risk HPV. Early intervention is key. 

The test

Before:

  • A letter will be sent in the post to invite you to book an appointment. 
  • Book the appointment for the middle of your menstrual cycle so you’re not on your period. 
  • Don’t use any creams or lubricants on your vagina before the smear test

During: 

  • The nurse will ask you to lie on your back with your legs bent and knees apart on an examination bed. 
  • A speculum will be put inside your vagina which will gently open it so the nurse can see your cervix. 
  • A nurse will take a sample of cells from your cervix using a small soft brush. 
  • The whole procedure will only take a few minutes

Cervical cancer 

The most common cause of cervical cancer is lack of early intervention through cervical screening. Regular cervical screening appointments can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancer which ultimately saves 5000 lives per year. However, many individuals still ignore their screening letter. This is largely due to individuals unaware of the importance and the potential consequences if you don’t make your appointment. Other reasons are due to embarassment, 1 in 4 delay smear tests due to this. 

Victims of cervical cancer

Sadly, Jade Goody the famous reality star was a victim of cervical cancer. Jade was an individual who ignored the abnormal results of her smear test. Often abnormalities are not fatal but it is important to go back to hospital. Unfortunately, for Jade she was diagnosed with cervical cancer whilst she was in the Indian Big Brother house and lost her battle in 2009. 

Pam Grier, Hollywood actress who starred in the iconic films ‘Foxy Brown’ and ‘Jackie Brown’, was also a victim. In 1988, she was told she had just 18 months to live. Pam underwent aggressive cancer treatment and thankfully won her battle and beat cancer. The most effective way to tackle cancer is through the early intervention of a smear test. 

Are we privileged?  

In the Isle of Man and UK an invitation for the free annual test is sent out after your 25th birthday. Individuals are also given treatment if an abnormality is detected. In developing countries, some are not as lucky. Overall, in Africa cervical cancer is the most common cause of cancer for people with a cervix and unfortunately the disease is often detected in the later stages as they don’t have the resources for early prevention. Cervical screening services are very low in most developing countries. In Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Malawi 90% of women have never even had a pelvic exam. Take advantage of this privilege. 

Take home message

If you’ve been sent a letter of invitation for your test, make an appointment asap. Spread the word to your friends with cervixes.

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