Regular readers will know that I teach in a secondary school and we will all remember the rite of passage thanks some kind of injection at school causing large numbers of fainters, dead arms and tears. In a mixed school where only the girls are having jabs this is also the opportunity for the boys to be horrible to the girls and wind them up for at least a week beforehand. As a teacher, I knew the very basics…the jabs that the girls have now are something to do with cervical cancer. That was enough to be able to bring the boys down when they started acting like prats.
I now know more! (and feel bad that I didn’t know before Dr Pixie taught me all about it)
The jabs are for HPV strains 16 and 18. HPV is the Human Papilloma Virus and the cause of 99.7% of cervical cancers. The injection is providing some protection against cervical cancer but it doesn’t have all the answers. What shocked me more was the number of grown women (aged 25 plus) who do not go for their smear tests or who delay their appointments (just hold on, that whopper is coming up).
Why is it important to have your smear test?
It is the most effective way of preventing cervical cancer as it detects any early changes in the cervix. More than 4,000 lives are saved every year with the NHS National Screening Programme. And damn it, we have a national free screening programme that we can all access – not everyone has this!
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, says, ‘It’s vital that women attend their NHS smear test, but there have been excellent results from HPV self-testing trials, which we hope to be taken up by the NHS in the future’.
What do we actually think about smear tests?
Well, most of us are not fans… shocker! Some of the words that we discussed when we got together were that people were “scared”, “embarrassed”, “memorable” and that some people felt like they were losing their “dignity”. None of the ideas discussed were particularly positive.
It’s so bad, that one third of women are not turning up for their smear tests and the average number of days that a woman is late in attending an appointment is 700 days! My jaw hit the floor at that figure! I was about 10 months late in attending my first appointment for 2 reasons. I didn’t really think that it would be an enjoyable experience and I used work as an excuse not to go. I couldn’t have time out of work for it and couldn’t get in after school hours so I just delayed. Having just had my second appointment, I was much calmer and rational about it, knowing how important it is. It was painless, not at all embarrassing, though having given birth that *area* is far less sacred than it was 2 years ago!
What are really your options as precautions against cervical cancer?
- If you have younger daughters, then their options start much earlier than they did for a lot of us. In high school, they are offered the HPV vaccination will work against HPV strains 16 and 18. This does not eliminate all risk and chance of getting cervical cancer but they are some of the highest risk strains. They will still need to have smear tests because it doesn’t cover all strains of the virus.
- HPV home testing kit – now this is ideal for those people who genuinely find it difficult to get to the doctors or extremely uncomfortable in that environment. Some groups of women have been marginalised such as the transgender community, the lesbian community and women who find themselves too busy to fit the traditional doctors surgery opening times. There is no excuse for not helping yourselves out. The new HPV home testing kit from GynaeCheck is incredibly easy to use – I’ll explain more in a moment!
- Go and have your smear! Man up, stop shying away from it and get it done!
What is so easy about the GynaeCheck test?
- It can be done in the comfort of your own home, in your own time, at whatever time of day!
- There is no pain at all as it is not removing any samples from your cervix.
- It is easy to send back as it comes with an addressed box ready to go.
- It is checking for the most common and high risk forms of HPV.
- Having done it myself, I would recommend it as an easy way of covering your back if you feel like you aren’t going to be able to get to the doctor for whatever reason. The results come back within 10 days of the lab receiving it and can be copied to your doctor so that they can support you with any necessary follow ups.
- You order the package (all discreetly put together) online here to be delivered wherever, it should go through your letterbox but you may want to make sure it doesn’t get into stray hands and have it delivered to work – no-one would know!
How do you feel about having your smear? Do you run there with glee or do you hold back and avoid it for as long as possible?