Smear Tests: 5 Minutes That Can Save Your Life

I am personally urging EVERY woman to go for her smear. Why?  Because I put mine off for over a year, and when I did find the time to go, my results were not what I was hoping they would be.

Back in 2009, the reality TV star Jade Goody died from cervical cancer.  Following her high profile diagnosis, treatment and tragic death from a largely preventable disease, the uptake of smear tests increased phenomenally.  So much so that is was dubbed “the Jade Goody effect” by medical professionals and those working in the field.  Women, watching and hearing of Jade’s illness, flocked to their GPs asking for smear tests.  Sadly, 9 years later, the Jade Goody Effect appears to be long gone, with uptake of smear test invitations at a 20-year low with only 1 in every 4 women attending their smear test.  This is scary.  Cervical cancer can often be a silent killer so, without prompt screening and treatment, those that may otherwise have survived such an awful disease are now dying.  But why is this the case? Embarrassment? A lack of time? Fear?

We put our vaginas through quite a lot: periods, sex, childbirth… but a smear test? Nope!  I get it – it’s not nice.  Nobody enjoys lying there on that cold couch with legs akimbo, whilst a total stranger inserts odd feeling items up there whilst asking us all manner of unrelated questions; “did you have a nice Christmas?” “Errrr….” And all the while, only a thin paper towel is provided to give us the idea at least, that our modesty is still somewhat in-tact. It’s uncomfortable, its undignified, but girls – it IS necessary, and it only takes 5 short minutes.  Don’t we owe ourselves that time in our busy lives to make sure we are ok?

Approximately 5 million women in the UK between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for a smear test each year.  Of those invited, only 1.25 million actually attend, yet smear tests save 5000 women a year, with over 90% of smear tests coming back normal.

That’s over 3.7 MILLION women that aren’t bothering to go for their smear when invited.

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Last year, following the smear that I had put off for well over a year with excuses of: I’m moving, I’m busy, I’m working, my last one was fine, so will this one be – I got the results that said my smear was abnormal and I was being referred for a colposcopy.  I started to panic.  I reached out to the most supportive group of women I knew of – Mummy’s Gin Fund. I was convinced I had cancer and my manic googling of signs, symptoms and prognosis was working me up even more.  I had gone from healthy to death’s door in under half a second.

I was surprised, thanks to Gin Fund, that actually colposcopy and abnormal smears were not an indicator of cancer, just PRE-cancerous cells.  Reassuringly, all of those that commented on my post, and there were many, had been ok.  Going into the appointment at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, I was ever so slightly calmer than I would have been otherwise. Abnormal cells do NOT mean cancer.  But not going for your smear test in the first place or your follow up appointments CAN.  Abnormal cells can be successfully removed in most cases with minimal discomfort and doing so can save your life.

At my colposcopy, they explained they had found moderately abnormal cells (otherwise called CIN ii) and they removed the area there and then under a local anaesthetic.  I went home a bit sore but otherwise ok, and incredibly relieved that the cells were gone.   I’ve recently had my 6-month follow up smear and was given a normal result and no need to return for another 3 years! Fab! I feel incredibly grateful for the cervical screening process here in the UK.

So, if that envelope has recently (or even not so recently) landed on the doormat BOOK THE APPOINTMENT! Go for the test.  Even more importantly, if you are one of the 10% that needs a follow up appointment – go for that too!  After my colposcopy and LLETZ treatment to remove my abnormal cells, I asked the nurse looking after me just to reassure me once again that what I had wasn’t cancer.  I mentioned Jade Goody’s name as it had constantly run through my mind since receiving my abnormal result.  One thing that may possibly have saved Jade’s life was if she had gone to her follow up appointments.  By the time she did, it was too late and had become untreatable.

If you know someone who has put their smear test off – encourage them to go!  If you have that sort of relationship, offer to go with them!  Sometimes a supportive friend to be there with them can make the difference.

Jo’s Trust has a helpline and online chat facility on their website along with a wealth of information regarding cervical health. It’s worth speaking to them, your practice nurse or GP if you have any concerns or are worried about anything at all to do with your smear.  You can contact Jo’s Trust or find out more information about their work and cervical health here.

Alternatively, the NHS website has more information on cervical screening on their webpage. Or on the government website here.

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Sarah is mum to Olivia aged 8 and girlfriend to Gareth. She lives in a small village in South Wales and is a country girl at heart despite being born and raised in Bexleyheath. New to blogging, Sarah enjoys writing, photography and astronomy when not doing various mummy activities for or with Olivia or walking her pet beagle, Teddy or saluki, Indy. Causes close to her heart include autism and premature birth - both having affected her following Olivia's birth at 30 weeks weighing 2lb 4oz and Olivia's later diagnosis of ASD. Author of about one mums life in the Welsh valleys, you can also find her on Instagram @sjdonaldson and twitter @SJ_Donaldson