In a time when science is so advanced that we’re cloning our pet dogs just to cling onto their companionship for a little while longer, curing diseases once thought incurable and wiping out deadly conditions that have seen populations practically eradicated, it’s hard to fathom that cervical cancer still claims the lives of around 970 women in the UK every single year. Approximately 3000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually, but new research has shown that one in five women don’t attend their screening appointments when invited. Cervical screening aims to pick up and treat abnormal cells before they develop into cervical cancer, and is estimated to save around 5,000 lives a year, so it’s practically unfathomable that so many of us are still gambling with not only our health – but our lives.
Statistics have shown that, apart from an increase in 2009, the uptake of cervical screening has either fallen or remained unchanged for the past decade; that’s simply not good enough. Although smear tests aren’t enjoyable, they’re so quick and painless that we should all be making the time to get tested and look after our health. However, it seems that we all make excuses to delay our appointments – from not having the time, blaming work commitments, not being able to get a convenient appointment or simply prioritising everything else over a smear. I know from personal experience how booking a check-up can become an inconvenience and something that slips to the bottom of your priority list, especially because doctors appointments often require time off work. According to new research, more than a quarter (26%) of women would be encouraged to attend if their company was more flexible and they didn’t have to take holiday for an appointment. That’s why I’m supporting the Time to Test campaign, which aims to make it easy as possible for women to start reversing the trend of missed appointments.
The Time to Test campaign has been developed by GSK and is supported by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the only UK charity dedicated to supporting those affected by cervical cancer and abnormalities. It encourages businesses and professional organisations to pledge their commitment to female employees having the flexibility to attend cervical screening during working hours if they are not able to get an appointment in their own time. The pledge has already been taken by the Intercontinental Hotels Group, global beauty brand Bare Escentuals and The Female Entrepreneur Association – and we hope that many more brands and businesses will follow.
Josephine Fairley, co-founder of Green & Blacks Chocolate, is also supporting Time to Test. She says: “I’m pleased as a woman and an entrepreneur to add my voice to this important campaign. It’s in employer’s interests as well as women’s interests to ensure we get tested. Caring for staff health should be a priority for every boss – and far better for everyone to find out if there’s a problem at an early stage than wait until treatment may be lengthier and more challenging.” Carrie Green, founder of the Female Entrepreneur Association, also supports Time to Test. She says: “Cervical cancer is the most common type of cancer in women under the age of 35 and earlier on this year I realised the impact of that fact when someone I knew lost her battle with the disease. All too often women put off going for a test, whether it’s because of work commitments, family commitments, or because they just can’t face going but it’s something we all need to make time for. Time to Test supports women in making their health their number one priority and as a proud support of this pledge; I hope that many women will feel empowered to make the time to test. It could save your life.”
I’ve personally been effected by cervical cancer, having had to undergo treatment for stage three pre-cancerous cells on my cervix last September. I was lucky enough to have had a smear test at a time when the abnormal cells could be removed, preventing any further abnormalities (and potentially cancer) from developing; however, if I hadn’t have attended my appointment it could’ve been a completely different story in the years to come. I’ve written about my experiences before (have a read of my ‘what happens during a smear test‘ post, as well as ‘what happens when the results aren’t normal?‘) and received a flurry of emails, messages and questions from women concerned about attending a smear or undergoing similar treatment. Cervical cancer and smear tests should be openly discussed as much as any other cancer, removing the fear factor and encouraging women to embrace the support available – and most importantly, book and attend a smear. They’re so quick and really not worth worrying about, so why are they such a taboo subject?
I hope that the Time To Test campaign raises awareness of the importance of smear tests, as well as encouraging women across the UK to book an appointment and prioritise their own health. I hope you’ll support me in raising awareness of such an amazing campaign and even pass on the website link to your own employers; encourage them to take the pledge and promise to support their female workforce and make it as easy as possible to get tested. A ten minute slot with a nurse could really save your life, so there’s no excuse not to make time – it really is Time To Test.
Check out the Time To Test website here: www.time-to-test.com