If you, like me, have a cervix, live in the UK, and are 25 or over, chances are you’ve either had a smear test, or are putting off having one done.
I had my first test done two weeks ago, and I’m really glad I went, because something actually did show up. I have mildly abnormal cells in my cervix, which means I have to go and get more tests done next week*. I’m not worried though, and the reason why is because I got tested, and didn’t leave it until it potentially got worse. That’s what smear tests are there for!
My doctor was so nice, and really calming, and reassured me that this result probably means nothing, just that I would need to get it checked out, but the great thing is that I didn’t wait and got it done. Unfortunately, a lot of people in my position don’t really know they’re in my position, because they didn’t get tested when they were invited.
Smear tests prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing, but according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, across the UK, one in four eligible women (between 25 and 64) and one in THREE women aged 25 to 29 don’t take up their smear test invitation.
Research has shown that among young women, embarrassment and body issues are a big factor in choosing not to go to a cervical screening test. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said that of the young women who were embarrassed to attend their smear test, 35% said it was down to their body shape, 34% said it was the appearance of their vulva, and 38% said it was concerns over smelling ‘normally’. In a new survey of 25 to 35-year-old women, 31% admitted they wouldn’t go if they hadn’t waxed or shaved their bikini area.
For a relatively easy and pain-free test, having women delay the screening or not show up altogether is something that really needs to be addressed. In fact, 20% of women have delayed a smear test because they would prefer not to know if something was wrong. I’ve had my test, and I can reassure you that it’s really quick and not at all painful, and it’s so much better to know what’s going on than to let it get worse by doing nothing.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, and smear tests can greatly reduce your chances of getting the disease because it can take a while for cervical cancer to develop, meaning if you spot an abnormality on your smear it can often be dealt with before cancer is even an issue.
Lindsay was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 29. She said: “I had my first ever smear at 29 because I had ignored all my previous invitations. I was too busy with a baby and a small child, working, and I didn’t like the thought of having to get naked in front of anyone I didn’t know. I don’t want other women to have to go through what I experienced, diagnosis and treatment was awful. I needed a radical hysterectomy and still struggle with some side effects of treatment today. Please don’t put off your smear test, the alternative is so much worse.”
This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, from the 22nd to the 28th of January, and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is launching its smear test awareness campaign #SmearForSmear. The campaign asks people to share lipstick-smeared selfies or videos with the message that smear tests prevent cervical cancer.
Sending a selfie or Tweet for #SmearForSmear could be the reminder that someone needs to get an appointment, and it could even save a life.
Believe me, I know it’s weird and embarrassing – I didn’t exactly love getting mine done – but I think it’s important to keep in mind that the people doing your smear just want what’s best for your health, they see hundreds of people and vaginas a week, and literally nothing will surprise them, from hair to no hair, to different sizes and shapes, to transgender patients.
Don’t put off something that could potentially save your life. This week, make your appointment, and remind your mates to do the same.
This blog post has been created with help from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. For more information on the charity, see their website here.
*Update: Everything’s fine.