After a conversation with some friends on Twitter today, I felt compelled to write this post.
I remember as soon as I got my first ever weekend job, aged 16, women talked to me about anything – regardless of the sensitivity of the topic. I remember a 19 year-old colleague telling me she avoided getting her smear test carried out because it was “uncomfortable and embarrassing”. I have heard variations of this excuse ever since.
OK, so having a smear test isn’t my idea of a good time but, thanks to my mum, I have always been aware of the importance of having it done. Depending on your Primary Care Trust (in the UK), you may be asked to go for smears every three years from the age of 21 or 25. Age is a contentious issue – some medical professionals say that cells are not mature enough to check before the age of 25.
If changes are detected in the cells, you may be recalled for annual smears. After that, you may be referred to Women’s Services for a colposcopy, where a camera is used to inspect the cells. They squirt a little vinegar on the cells and any that change from red to white; they take a punch biopsy of. They then send these to the labs for grading. Within four weeks you will hear whether they want to see you again in a year or whether you require further treatment. Sometimes, a loop biopsy is recommended to permanently remove the afftected area. This can be done under local anaesthetic but you can request a general anaesthetic. These procedures are uncomfortable and you may feel a little bit of pain afterwards but it does subside.
The good thing about being referred to Colposcopy is 1 – You are in the hands of people who deal with this every day. 2 – Most (if not all) of the staff are women so they perhaps have a bit more understanding than some men would, having gone through some of the processes themselves. 3 – The staff are sensitive and very empathetic. 4 – You are in the right place if you do need treatment.
If you carry on with this process, it should never get to the stage of requiring treatment for cancer as the cells that are removed are pre-cancerous so haven’t been allowed to develop.
For anyone who is scared or embarrassed, I understand but it is far less painful having these things done than having cancer treatment or planning your own funeral.
Some people may cite the case of Jade Goody, who died aged just 27 from cervical cancer. However, Jade herself admitted in an interview with Heat magazine that, having had a previous form of treatment (laser treatment) to get rid of pre-cancerous cells earlier in her life, she had ignored smear results saying there had been changes in her cells. Only when she began to become ill, passing out and experiencing bleeding, did she seek help. If Jade had gone for the treatment earlier, she may have been saved.
Please endure those five minutes of embarrassment and have your smear test.