Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women under 35 with two women in the UK per day dying from the disease. Up to 75% of cervical cancer cases can be prevented by attending regular screening appointments. In fact, this simple test saves approximately 5,000 lives each year. Despite its importance, many women are hesitant to undergo this screening. Shockingly, one in four women do not respond to their screening invitations.
One of our incredible members Cerrie Worrell has kindly written us a blog about cervical screening, for any ladies out there that are worried about having their first screening test done and those wanting to understand what happens during your appointment.
My name is Cerrie and I am a 24-year-old registered nurse. I have worked in a number of areas and had a number of experiences through my training. One of which was a gynaecological and women’s health rotations and recently worked in accident and emergency. I am personally waiting till I am allowed to have a cervical smear. In the UK it is the rule that unless your aged 25 years old or older you are not offered or allowed to have a cervical screen.
Have you had your cervical smear? This question is often asked to women of all ages. Currently, I am under the age to be offered this, although I have asked for one due to having historical cancers on both sides of my family. I am not sure I agree with the 25-age limit, cancer and pre-cancerous cells do not care what age you are. Both from family and through my nursing I have seen that cancer or pre-cancerous cell changes do not discriminate on age.
At this stage you might have a number of questions about a smear test as, like most things to do with our bodies as women, there is not much education about this. So let me answer a few for you.
What is a smear test?
A smear test is a cervical screening check which looks at the health of your cervix. The smear test is to help prevent cancer and it will show up pre-cancerous cells or changes to the cellular biology of your cervix. The smear is a sample of cells from your cervix for an infection with a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). These changes could later develop into cervical cancer.
How is a smear test carried out?
They’ll gently put a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina which will be expanded slightly. A small amount of lubrication may be used. The nurse will open the speculum so they can see your cervix. Using a soft brush, they’ll take a small sample of cells from your cervix. This sample will then be sent off for testing.
Does it hurt?
I would say the general consensus is it is more uncomfortable for most but unfortunately, it can be painful for some. As one of my fellow Country Girls/ Nurses told me, it can be sore but is nothing in comparison to childbirth!! She would recommend taking over-the-counter pain relief before and after this procedure.
The most important thing to do is try and relax. If taking deep breaths or visualising your happy place (if that includes a Country Girls UK day, you’re not the only one!) help to keep you relaxed, it can reduce the pain from the insertion and expansion of the speculum.
Why should you get one?
Time for the facts and figures!
- In 2016-2018, there were 3197 new cases of cervical cancer each year 2016-2018 which is on average 9 new cases per day.
- There were 853 deaths from cervical cancer 2017-2019 in the UK.
- There is a 51% survival rate for 10 more years between 2013-2017.
- There were 99.8% preventable cases in 2015.
- Incidence rates for cervical cancer in the UK are highest in females aged 30 to 34.
Where can I get a smear test?
Most of us can get them done at the GP, you may receive a letter from the GP when you are due one but you can also request one if you have not had one yet, whether you are younger or older than 25. If you are under 50 and haven’t had one in over 3 years, you can also request to have one done, or if you are over the age of 50 and haven’t had one for 5 years, you can request this from your GP. You can also get this done privately or at a sexual health clinic if you prefer.
Be sure to go to your screening when invited, it’s over in a matter of minutes and it could save your life!
If you want to know more about Cervical Screening Awareness Week, click here.
Written by Cerrie Worrell