Let’s not beat around the bush: approximately nine people are diagnosed with cervical cancer daily, while two people lose their lives to the disease every 24 hours. This hugely preventable and treatable cancer is still costing women across the world their lives because many of us are too embarrassed or anxious to attend vitally important screening appointments, that are proven to prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers. Around 1 in 4 women in the UK aren’t attending their smear test, a twenty year low that hits even harder as this year marks a whole decade since Jade Goody sadly lost her life because she avoided that hugely necessary appointment. There’s no denying that smear tests can be daunting, uncomfortable and awkward for many – but if those few minutes could save your life, isn’t it 100% worth it every single time?
Smear test attendance is a huge passion point of mine, which is why I’ve been working with Jo’s Trust as an ambassador for the last year in order to drive awareness of cervical cancer and encourage more women to attend their appointments when they’re called to do so. About five years ago I had a very close call and learned first hand the importance of regular screening, and how easy it is to get rid of any potentially abnormal and problematic cells; I won’t bore you with the whole story (you can read it here) but suffice to say, if I’d listened to my doctor’s surgery and postponed my smear for another 12 months then I may not have been here to write this blog post.
One of the main reasons that women aren’t attending their appointments is from pure fear of the unknown, or anxiety about the way they look: women are literally dying of embarrassment, completely unnecessarily, and it needs to stop. You owe it to yourself to look after your health and wellbeing, arming yourself with the tools and knowledge to make that appointment as pain free and easy as possible – because it really could save your life. I remember vividly attending my first smear and being absolutely terrified of the unknown, wishing someone had told me what to expect or I’d taken the time out to properly research what would happen; after hyping it up in my head, it was over in literally two minutes and I left feeling like a total wally for working it up to be something so horrifically embarrassing and uncomfortable.
For the majority of women the procedure is quick and pain-free, even if slightly uncomfortable and a tad cringe-worthy, but for a minority a smear test can be painful and it’s important to recognise that. There are many reasons why this may happen, including Vaginismus (when the vagina suddenly tightens as you try to put something into it,) Endometriosis, cervical erosion, vaginal dryness, or even purely because you’re clenching and unable to relax. I’ve written a post previously with seven tips to reduce the discomfort associated with smear tests which may help prepare you, but the most important thing is to remember why you’re having the screening undertaken and ask for support if you need it.
If you’re yet to attend your first smear test and want to know exactly what happens then I’ve written up all the information and some top tips here including what the process involves, whether it hurts, what equipment is used, how to make yourself feel more comfortable and what happens afterwards. The nurses really have seen it all before, and have repeatedly told me they don’t even notice what your nether regions look like – because they’re too busy concentrating on trying to find the right spot to take a swab from!
It’s still baffling to me why our vaginas are such a taboo subject and why we’re still so embarrassed of attending our smear tests; it’s 2019 and we’ve never been freer, but something as simple as a sweep of your cervix can cause crippling anxiety for many. Let’s all make a pledge to start asking our loved ones when their last screening was and openly discussing the importance of these quick appointments: you never know, it could save their life and yours.
WANT TO SUPPORT CERVICAL CANCER AWARENESS WEEK?
WHY NOT SHARE YOUR #SMEARFORSMEAR OR TWEET ONE OF THE BELOW…
Smear tests aren’t always easy, but there are ways to make them better. I’m supporting #SmearForSmear and @JoTrust so that every woman who wants to feels able to book their test. Find out more at jostrust.org.uk/smearforsmear
Is your smear test overdue? They aren’t always easy, but they can save lives. Find out how you can make your test better at jostrust.org.uk/smearforsmear then share your #SmearForSmear to pass the message on.
1 in 4 women don’t attend their smear test. I’m supporting @JoTrust and #SmearForSmear to help change this. Find out how to make your test better at jostrust.org.uk/smearforsmear
Find out more about Jo’s Trust and their 2019 Smear For Smear campaign here.