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the importance of getting a smear test


A cervical screening test (previously/more widely known as a smear test) is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix.

In the UK, at the age of 25, every cis female will receive a letter from their doctor inviting them to book an appointment for their first cervical screening test. During your appointment, a doctor/nurse (normally a female, however you can explicitly request one if wished) will insert a device into your vagina to open it gently, this is called a speculum and allows the professional to see your cervix. Then, a small brush is used to take a sample from the surface of the cervix. The whole procedure lasts a few minutes. Although you may feel slight discomfort, there should be no pain and the doctor/nurse will do everything they can to make you more comfortable if required. It doesn't sound too bad, does it?

Out of 100 women who have their cervical screening, about 6 will have abnormal cells in their sample. Out of those only 4 will be invited for a further colposcopy (if signs of the HPV infection are found) and around half of these people will have abnormal cells that require removing to prevent cancerous cells developing. Preventing cancer from growing is much easier than trying to get rid of it. Having a smear test every three years increases the likelihood of spotting the abnormal cells before they develop into something more serious.

Figures show that as of March 31, 2017, the percentage of eligible women (aged 25-64)  who were recorded as screened adequately within the specified period was 72.0%. This compares with 72.7% the previous year, 73.5% the year before and 74.2% the year before that. The number of women getting a cervical screening test is decreasing. In fact, the statistics show that attendance of cervical screening in England is the lowest for two decades.

According to Cancer Research, the peak age group for incidences of cervical cancer is in those aged 25-29, so it is shocking to learn that one-fifth of young women think a smear test is unnecessary. Amongst these, around 26% of women have concerns that the procedure will cause pain/uncomfortable or embarrassing. If concerns arise, the best thing to do is contact either your GP or online support before your screening/when you get your letter. All queries can be sorted, and you will feel more comfortable about attending your smear test.

Since the NHS Cervical Screening Programme was introduced in 1988, the number of women getting cervical cancer reduced from over 4100 a year to 2300 a year in 2010. Cervical screening helps prevent the development of cervical cancer. In fact, it is shown cervical screening saves as many as 5000 lives from cervical cancer a year in the UK. So having screenings every three years to detect abnormal cells means you are less likely to develop cancer. Of course, as with anything, there are small risks associated. For example, those that have abnormal cells removed (around 2 in every 100) are more likely to have children 1-2 months early and can cause some bleeding, but is unlikely that this will be an issue. The benefits of having regular smear tests definitely seem to outway the risks.

It is vital that young women (and older women) attend their smear tests, and are educated on the importance of regular smear tests. If you are over 25 and have not had a smear test in the past three years, get in contact with your GP to book a simple, painless, quick procedure which could save your life. 

Cervical Cancer Prevention week runs from Monday 22nd- Sunday 28th January, and it is important to spread awareness. Sharing #SmearForSmear with a selfie with smeared lipstick or even simply with a fact about cervical screenings may be the reminder or encouragement someone requires to get themselves to the doctors. You can find more information about that here.

If you have any questions you can visit your local GP or contraceptive clinic, or visit one of the links below -
Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust - https://www.jostrust.org.uk/
Cancer Research UK- https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/

(Just thought I'd add that I am not yet 25, this is just something dear to me)
twitter.com/tnmperance
instagram.com/talkingtoelise
enquires - elssthinks@gmail.com

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