You may or may not have known that last week was Cervical Cancer Screening Awareness Week.
This is a vitally important date in the calendar because of how it highlights the importance of cervical screening (smear tests) and how having just one test can help to prevent cervical cancer, the second most common female cancer in the under 35s.
It’s been five years since Jade Goody died from cervical cancer at just 27. And while at the time her death prompted thousands of women to get screened for the disease, that trend unfortunately now appears to be on the decline.
Research conducted by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to mark Cervical Screening Awareness Week, revealed that the number of women across all age groups attending screenings has plummeted – yet the number of those diagnosed with the disease has reached its highest level in 15 years.
Jo’s Trust found that 39% of women are embarrassed by the concept of having a smear test, and one in 10 were uncomfortable having the test done at their GP’s surgery.
One in five forgot all about it altogether, and one in 10 thought cervical screening was a test for ovarian cancer.
This is so worrying. Just going for one screening can save a staggering 5,000 lives a yearby catching potential disease as early as possible.
Of course it isn’t the most pleasant of experiences but isn’t five minutes of discomfort worth it ten times over if it can save your life?
Why are women so put off by cervical screening?
It is not a test for cancer; it’s a test to check the health of the cells of the cervix, and most women’s test results show everything is normal.
For around 1 in 20 women, the test will show some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.
In England, women between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for cervical screening. Women aged between 25 and 49 are invited for testing every three years, and women aged between 50 and 64 are invited every five years.
Being screened regularly means that any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing.
It is estimated that early detection and treatment can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers.
A few weeks ago, The Chronicle reported the story of 33-year-old mum-of-three Lynn Jones, 33, who had been regularly smear tested since she was 21.
When she was 30, Lynn got a letter through the post reminding her that her next screening was due. Busy with work and looking after her two children, she forgot about it and before she knew it she was 18 months late with her test.
Lynn made the appointment, had the smear done and while waiting for her results, discovered she was pregnant.
Doctors found abnormal cells in Lynn’s sample and she was called back for a biopsy and repeat smear.
She said: “The results came back that I had CIN3, a high form of pre-cancerous cells.
“As I was pregnant I had to wait before I could do anything and three months after I gave birth I had a colposcopy to remove them, not a nice experience at all.
“I urge anyone who is due a smear to go, yes it’s not very nice but it might save your life.
“I keep thinking if I would have just gone for the smear the first time this wouldn’t have happened.”
So, if you take just one thing away from reading this article, let it be Lynn’s advice.
If you’re due a smear test you’ve been putting off, book an appointment as soon as possible, because if you don’t, it may end up being your biggest regret.