Cervical cancer: Aware but Embarrassed?
Updated: Feb 6
As this week is cervical cancer prevention week we’re wrapping up the week and joining in on the conversation in hopes of removing the stigma and embarrassment that prevents women attending their smear tests.
Cervical cancer is caused by the Human papillomavirus (HPV), out of the 100’s of very common versions of HPV about 14 are “high risk” types that can develop into cancer.
However early detection and treatment of abnormal cells can help prevent them from turning cancerous and that is why cervical screenings are vital. Especially as not all women experience symptoms in the early stages.
“It is a disease that can be prevented through early detection, you never think you could be affected until you are.”
Screenings are offered to women from the age of 25 with repeat smears every three years. The process itself, although perceived as painful and embarrassing, is very quick, lasting less than 5 minutes. It involves a speculum being inserted into the vagina and the retrieval of cells from the cervix using a medical brush. This procedure is avoided by 1 in 4 women because they are embarrassed.
Part of removing the stigma and embarrassment surrounding HPV and cervical cancer is raising awareness, below are some facts we've gathered from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
Embarrassment has been identified as one of the main reasons why people delay or avoid their screenings, so now more than ever it is important to understand that the nurses and doctors who carry out the procedures have done so many times, they are there to do their jobs not judge you. You will be one of hundreds of women that pass through and you'll probably never have to face them again.
"Please don't let unhappiness or uncertainty about your body stop you from attending what could be a life-saving test”
Bringing along a close friend, #SmearBuddy who has been through the experience can help ease embarrassment and fears surrounding the screening. If you or your friend are worried, moral support can go a long way and you can easily turn it into a girls' day and spoil yourselves afterwards too. Wearing a long skirt can help you avoid feeling too exposed, so instead of taking off all your clothes, you can pull your skirt up and then straight back down again.
Deep breaths and positive thoughts can also help, think of it like this, 3-5 minutes of discomfort and embarrassment can potentially save your life. You can let the nurse know that you are nervous, they are very good at making you feel comfortable and can walk you through the procedure step by step. You can also read up on other people's experiences on what to expect so you are informed, ready and relaxed.
You could even go as far as inserting the speculum yourself, feel free to even ask for a smaller speculum, remember you are in control and can ask the doctor to slow down or stop at any time if you feel pain.
Part of raising awareness is knowing the symptoms, these may not always be present in the early stages hence why the screenings are so vital. These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer but If you experience any of the following symptoms consult your GP.
Abnormal bleeding: both during or after sexual intercourse, or between periods
Unusual vaginal discharge
Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse
Lower back pain