Having a cervical screening or smear test as it used to be known can be an uncomfortable process, but in my opinion, it’s certainly not the worst thing in the world, so why are women who are eligible for screenings in the UK, not having their smear tests?
According to statistics taken from the NHS website, only 75.4% of all eligible women had a smear test in 2012, which has now dropped even further to only 72% who had a smear test in 2017 …What is going on?!
It baffled me completely when I heard the latest statistics at the start of this year, so wanted to learn more about this hugely concerning and declining trend. Apparently, women are so embarrassed by the appearance and odour of their pubic areas, they would rather risk Cancer!
Whilst I understand that our social media world of airbrush perfection has a fair amount of influence over us, I simply cannot understand why we are more concerned with whether our lady garden has been vajazzled (thanks TOWIE) than whether abnormal cells are starting to form which can be early indicators of Cancer.
It concerned me greatly that many women are simply choosing not to attend smear test screenings, which save an estimated two thousand lives every year.
Thankfully, now, we live in a time when nobody famous has recently been diagnosed with Cervical Cancer. According to Robert Music, chief executive at charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust: “The Jade Goody effect has long gone”.
As we are approaching the 9th year anniversary of her death, I wanted to remember Jade Goody particularly for the benefit of the younger ladies amongst us.
Jade Goody was a 27-year-old larger than life woman, who was famous for being a member of ‘Big Brother’ back in the day (2002) and later on in Celebrity Big Brother (2007). Whilst Jade was somewhat of an acquired taste personality wise, I always admired that she owned who she was in life and during her death.
What you may not know is that Jade left behind her husband and young family, as she had two adoring boys with the TV presenter Jeff Brazier, before they split in 2004.
Jade died within one year of being diagnosed with cervical cancer. Yes, just one year!
Whilst Jade was receiving treatment for her terminal illness, we watched her on TV as she allowed the cameras to film her planning for the care of her two sons. Jade was baptised and shortly afterwards, she had her two sons christened, married her partner Jack Tweed and died one month later in 2009.
At the time, I was 29 years old, just a couple of years older than Jade and I cannot express how much Jade’s story struck the nation. Coverage of Jade’s illness was widespread and the nation was deeply saddened by seeing such a young woman deteriorate rapidly, preparing herself and young family for her own death.
Whilst the story became a media sensation, medical authorities in the UK saw a dramatic increase in requests from women for cervical cancer screening, which was incredibly encouraging as there had previously been a decline.
This became known as: ‘The Jade Goody Effect’.
Because of Jade’s illness, government health ministers agreed to reviewing NHS policy, which at that time was not to screen for cervical cancer until age 25 in England. Before her death, Jade expressed how proud she was to have prompted the review, which is why it is so sad that there has been a further decline in women having their smear tests in the last five years.
As previously mentioned, I have suffered with Crohn’s Disease since 2005 and have been receiving immunosuppressant medication since 2006. Whilst this drug keeps my Crohn’s Disease in remission, unfortunately the main side effect is that it weakens your immune system. This means that I am more susceptible to infection.
“…It is imperative to remember that if we are not here on this planet living, it doesn’t matter one iota how ‘beautiful’ we look…”
The reason for sharing this is because I have had my fair share of smear tests over the years. At one point, I was having them every 6 months. Abnormal changes were found regularly which led to regular Colposcopy appointments, biopsies were taken and I even experienced Loop diathermy treatment which is done under local anaesthetic to remove abnormal cells.
I can honestly tell you that the horror of seeing a young woman die, leaving behind her beautiful young family, will never stop me from having a slightly uncomfortable procedure done. I do believe that having regular cervical screening checks over the years, has potentially saved my life.
Please take note of these important reminders taken from the NHS website for yourselves and other lovely ladies in your lives:
- The HPV vaccination doesn’t guarantee complete protection against cervical cancer.
- Make sure your GP has your correct name and address and let them know of any changes so that you can be contacted accordingly when you’re due for a smear test.
- Letters should be sent to women:
- Aged 25 – 49 – every 3 years
- Aged 50 – 64 – every 5 years
- Over 65 – only women who haven’t been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests.
- Book your screening appointment as soon as you get the invitation.
Does it really require another high-profile personality to be diagnosed? Reminding us of our own mortality and the stark reality of cervical cancer? Before women remember that their health is more important than their body image?
If this story has touched you, but you are still anxious, feeling nervous or embarrassed about attending a cervical screening / smear test, please note my top tips for dealing with a smear test or Colposcopy appointment:
- Plan what you’re going to do afterwards and look forward to it.
- Wear clothing that is easy to remove from the waist downwards, you may wish to shave your legs or get waxed, but for the record, no one has ever thrown me a compliment on my latest trim!
- You may decide to take someone with you who you trust.
- Follow medical instructions prior to procedure.
- Talk to the doctor / nurse about their day or make a joke about the uncomfortable nature of the situation which will help all parties feel relaxed.
- Take deep breaths throughout and relax your muscles as tension in your body can cause the doctor / nurse greater difficulty in accessing your body which can in turn cause unnecessary pain to you.
- Demonstrate your gratitude and thank the doctor / nurse for being so thorough.
- Take painkillers as advised by the doctor / nurse following the procedure.
My hope is that after reading this, women feel more empowered to check their cervical health regularly as advised by their doctors. Certainly, with every visit I have, life suddenly shifts back into perspective and I remember that the most important things are to be healthy and happy.
It is imperative to remember that if we are not here on this planet living, it doesn’t matter one iota how ‘beautiful’ we look. I feel that in our modern age, where aspirations to look ‘perfect’ seem to be the norm, we can’t get enough of this type of reality check.
Please share this article across your Social Media, with other women, so that together we can grow stronger to resist the seduction of looking, smelling and being ‘perfect’ all the time. Prioritise your health and embrace your perfect imperfections.
For information about cervical screening / smear tests, please visit the NHS website:
Find further detail about Colposcopy procedures here:
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is the UK’s only dedicated charity offering support and information to women of all ages and their loved ones affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. For more information visit www.jostrust.org.uk or call the national helpline on 0808 802 8000.