As many of you may know, this week is Cervical Cancer Screening Awareness Week, and despite the continued efforts by Public Health England to persuade women to attend these appoints, a whopping 30% are still not turning up.
This worrying statistic proves there is still much to be done when it comes to making cervical cancer screening appointments a no-brainer, and Cervical Cancer Screening Awareness week continues to play a vital role in achieving this.
How is cervical cancer caused and what are ‘screenings’?
You may have heard of cervical cancer screening described as ‘smear tests’, and their purpose is to look for abnormal cells in the cervix that could potentially develop into cancer.
Cervical cancer screening appointments take as little as 10 minutes and should not be painful, though they can cause some discomfort. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down, and given a sheet to place over you. Your nurse will ask you to lie back with your legs bent and knees apart. A smooth tool called a speculum is used to carefully open your vagina, so a swab can be taken from your cervix with a small brush.
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (or human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted infection. Children are now vaccinated against HPV whilst still at school (before they are sexually active) to protect them from the virus, though there is a small chance they can still catch it, with the vaccine protecting against 90% of strains.
Why are screenings so important?
Like many other diseases, cervical cancer is very good at hiding. As it doesn’t show any symptoms until things get very advanced, it’s incredibly important to have a preventive mindset and go along to your smear tests when invited.
All women between the ages of 35-64 should be attending these appointments, though the frequency of them changes as you age. You should be going along every 3 years between the age of 25-49, and this increases to 5 years between the age of 50-64.
So, why is attendance for screenings so poor?
It’s a good question that has a number of possible answers, though the reason that crops up time and time again is that women are embarrassed by the whole process and their bodies. It’s so important to remember that health professionals are never there to judge and will encourage you to let them know if you are nervous, so they can help you to feel more comfortable with your surroundings and the process.
Convenience has also been cited as a reason women don’t attend, and certain clinics have extended their appointments to allow for weekend and evening appointments to try and accommodate busy lives.
23% of women believe that cervical screenings are looking for cancer, which could be another reason they’re putting it off, out of fear that they’ll get told they have the ‘C’ word. In actual fact, it’s a preventive appointment to look for conditions that may develop into cancer.
You can read more about Cervical Screening Awareness Week right here.