Cervical Cancer Awareness Week | Should I Still Attend My Smear Test During The Coronavirus Pandemic?
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 taking too many 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. It’s estimated that around 1 in 4 in the UK aren’t attending their smear test when invited, but now COVID-19 has thrown its metaphorical hat in the ring it’s no surprise that there’s even more anxiety around attending your cervical screening appointment.
However, with restrictions being gradually lifted the majority of GPs across England are now resuming their screening programme and inviting those eligible for an appointment. (It’s currently still paused in Scotland and Wales.) Although it may look a different for the time-being, with nurses wearing PPE and minimal people in the surgery at any one time, it’s still really important to attend your smear test – if you’re able and feel comfortable doing so. If you’re currently shielding, are in a vulnerable category or are struggling with your mental health right now, then it’s definitely worth having a chat with your local surgery or reaching out to Jo’s Trust (the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity) to find out what your options are.
We don’t know how long this pandemic will continue for, so putting off your appointment until it’s over may put you and your health at unnecessary risk. I know from personal experience what difference a couple of months can make, as I demanded an appointment from a rather unenthusiastic receptionist only to find out I had stage four pre-cancerous cells and needed an urgent colposcopy and LLETZ procedure to remove them. If I’d delayed my appointment by another 6-12 months like I was being recommended, it may well have been a very different story. (I’ve written more here if you’re interested.)
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. 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; they’re too busy focusing on doing their job, and really you’re just another cervix to them.
We’re currently living through an incredibly strange and unique time in history, where the majority of decisions and options have been taken away from us, so where we still have the option to regain control it makes absolute sense to do so.
Today marks the launch of Cervical Cancer Awareness week and Jo’s Trust are using it as an opportunity to educate, inform and appease. Nobody would choose to spend 30 minutes of their day with their legs akimbo while a stranger swishes something around their nether regions, but if you have the power to take back control of your health then a little moment of discomfort and awkwardness (in my opinion) is absolutely worth it.
Right now we’re fighting an invisible illness across the globe, but at least with cervical abnormalities we have a proven track record of treatments to tackle them before they become problematic. So if you’re due to have a cervical screening appointment, or had yours postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, then now is the time to do your research, set your mind at rest and be as prepared as possible for a potentially life changing appointment.
For further information, Jo’s Trust have an excellent FAQ resource that answers all your smear test appointment and Coronavirus questions HERE.
The Eve Appeal will also be hosting live resources all week, including a discussion around why black women are so unlikely to go for their screening, how we can help trans men and non-binary people with a cervix to feel supported and empowered, and how we can help women who have suffered trauma from sexual abuse get screened.