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Put embarrassment aside and get tested

ADVICE: Help is on hand from a nurse or doctor if you’re worried about a cervical screening or notice anything unusual;

HAVING a screening for cervical cancer is never at the top of your list of things to
do as young women.

The thought of being half naked in a room in front of a doctor or nurse and having them poke and prod around is something you would rather avoid. This, coupled with the shocking tales of discomfort from female friends and family and reassuring thoughts of, ‘I’m fine,’ or, ‘I’d know if something was wrong,’ make us even more reluctant to get a tested.

But as the rates of cervical cancer increase among women across the UK, perhaps screening should be a priority.

In 2016, a study conducted by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the only UK Charity dedicated to cervical cancer, commissioned research with YouGov to understand the barriers to cervical screening uptake and knowledge about cervical cancer within BAME communities, compared to responses from white British women.

The study revealed that a third fewer black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women of screening age (12 per cent) compared to white women (eight per cent) had attended a cervical screening appointment, 53 per cent of BAME women aged 55-65 believe that screening is a necessary health test against 67 per cent of white women aged 55-65, and only 28 per cent of BAME women said they would feel comfortable talking to a male GP in comparison to 45 per cent of white women.

Although emotional factors – such as fear and embarrassment play a huge part in BAME women not screening, studies also show that Afro- Caribbean women perceive they are at a lower risk than other ethnic groups of developing cervical cancer.

This is not true – cervical cancer can affect any woman, at any age, which is why it is so important to screen. Despite experiencing a few minutes of discomfort – if any at all – cervical cancer screen could potentially save your life.

Here are six steps you should follow ahead of your appointment:
1. Know the basics

Having a cervical cancer screen – more commonly referred to a smear test – is a method of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina.

According to NHS choices, most women have a negative test result where everything is normal, but for around one in 20 women, the test shows some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

By detecting and removing abnormal cells the development of cervical cancer can be prevented. Most of these abnormalities won’t lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal.

However, in some cases, the abnormal cells need to be removed so they can’t become cancerous. Research shows that cervical screening prevents at least 2,000 deaths each year in the UK.

2. Booking an appointment

Just before your 25th birthday, you will get a letter in the post encouraging you to go for your first screen. This is normal – it is something that all women in the UK receive.
You can make an appointment for your screen at your local GP or sexual health clinic. Screening is usually carried out by the practice nurse or doctor. You can specifically ask to have a female nurse or doctor for the appointment.

If possible, try to book an appointment during the middle of your menstrual cycle (usually 14 days from the start of your last period), as this can ensure a better sample of cells are taken.

3. Your appointment

The procedure usually lasts around five minutes, so between confirming your details upon arrival, getting undressed from the waist down, performing the procedure and then getting dressed again, the whole appointment can last anything from 10 to 20 minutes.

After you’ve undressed and have lay down on a medical bed behind a curtain, the doctor or nurse will ask you to open your legs and will gently insert an instrument, called a speculum, into your vagina.

This holds the walls of the vagina open so the cervix can be seen. A small soft brush will then be inserted into your vagina to gently collect some cells from the surface of your cervix. By relaxing as much as possible and taking deep breaths throughout the procedure, you can help to reduce any discomfort you may feel.

Some women find the procedure a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing, but for most women, it is not painful. The cell sample is then sent off to a laboratory for analysis and results are then sent out within two to six weeks.

4. Receiving your results

Ensure that your contact details are correct prior to leaving your GP or sexual health clinic as you are likely to receive your result by post. If your test results are negative, you will be told so, and will be encouraged to come back and retest in three to five years’ time.

However, if your results are positive, you will be told so and invited to attend a clinic to have further testing, but this depends on the classification of the cells that are found.
If the cells found are low- grade abnormalities, they are likely to disappear without treatment, but if the cells pre-sent moderate or severe abnormalities, you will be encouraged to undergo treatment to reduce the risk of them devel- oping into cervical cancer.

5. Encourage others to get tested

By talking to your friends and family about how quick, easy and discomfort free – we hope – your experience was, you can play a part in influencing them to be tested, thereby reducing the figures of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer yearly.

If you went to a sexual health clinic or a women’s service as opposed to your GP, recommend them to your friends and family – it will give them peace of mind knowing that you went there, too.

You could even agree to go with a friend, or a group of friends, to get screened together.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you get screened and get others to do the same!

6. Follow up screening

Three to five years from your first cervical screen, you should be thinking about booking yourself in for another appointment – following the same steps as above. In the UK, women aged 25 to 49 receive invitations every three years, and women aged 50 to 64 receive invitations every five years.

It is important to remember that cervical screening is not a test to find cancer. It is a screening test to detect changes to the cells of the cer- vix, which are called cervical abnormalities, or pre-cancer. The earlier the diagnosis – if any – the earlier it can be treated and managed long- term.

The HPV vaccination

Since 2008, girls aged 12 and 13 have been offered a vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV). The vaccine can prevent more than 70 per cent of cervical cancers. It is important for girls to have the vaccination when it is offered at school – but there are many types of HPV linked to cervical cancer.

This means that screening is still important for girls who have been vaccinated, as things can change over time.

If you have symptoms

As well as attending for screening when you are invited, you still need to look out for any unusual changes to your body, for example:

• Abnormal bleeding (such as bleeding between periods)
• Unpleasant-smelling dis-charge
• Pain during sex

You should see your doctor if you notice anything unusual.

There are many conditions that can cause these symptoms. Most of them are much more common than cervical cancer. But it is important to get your symptoms checked out. Evidence shows that the chance of developing cervical cancer if a woman has never had sex is low.

If a woman is not currently sexually active, but has been in the past, then the recommendation is that she continues screening. Since cervical screening started in the 1980s in Great Britain, rates of cervical cancer have almost halved.

Being screened regularly means any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing. However, cervical screening isn’t 100 per cent accurate and doesn’t prevent all cases of cervical cancer. Screening is a personal choice – and you have the right to choose not to attend.

For more information on cervical cancer screening, prevention and survival, log on to and

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