Cervical Screening at lowest in 19 years! It was in the news last week that cervical screening/Smear tests are at a 19 (!!) year low. Back in 2009 Jade Goody lost her life aged just 27 to cervical cancer. Her cancer battle prompted a huge campaign and awareness of the importance of girls getting having their smear tests and, as a result, figures showed an increase in the numbers of girls attending their appointments. It’s so sad that just 8 years down the line ‘The Jade Goody Effect’ is no longer working and numbers have dropped … massively. It’s been reported that 1.2 million women are failing to get their tests done. Honestly, it’s something that takes a few minutes. Yes, some people might think it’s embarrassing or a little uncomfortable but surely that’s better than the alternative?
It’ll be 8 years in April a group of us lost a dear friend Ally to cervical cancer. Ally was only 26, recently married and had a little boy just 4 years old when she lost her life. Poor Ally was actually under the age bracket at the time to have a smear test and by the time she reached 25 and had her first invite the cancer had already started.
In the UK women are invited for a routine smear when they reach 25 and will continue to have them 3 yearly as long as the results are clear until the age of 49, then 5 yearly from 50 to 64. Women aged over 65 will only be invited if they haven’t been screened since 50 or have had abnormal results.
Cervical Screening – otherwise known as smear test only take only 10 minutes (the actual test is over in minutes though) and it could literally save your life. The test check your cervix making sure it’s healthy and there are no abnormal cells. The results are usually back within 2 weeks. Most women will receive a normal result, however, 1 in 20 women will have an abnormal result. This doesn’t mean you have cancer, it just means you have cells that have changed and if left unattended or untreated they may develop into cancer.
I went for a routine smear test around 9 years ago. I had it done and thought nothing of it because all of my previous tests had come back normal. This time they didn’t. I received a letter inviting me to a second smear at my GP practice for 6 months time. 6 months past and the results of my second test was also showing minor abnormal changes to my cells so I was referred to my local colposcopy clinic at the hospital. On my first appointment, I had to have my cervix looked at through a microscope and I had some dye rubbed onto the surface. If there were any abnormal areas they would show up as white areas on my cervix rather than staying the yellowy colour of the dye. I was able to see it all happening on a screen in front of me (some may find it squeamish but I found it quite interesting …. for my first appointment anyway!) Sure enough there was an area highlighted in white so the Doctor decided to take a biopsy of the area to be sent away for analysis . It was at this point I decided it was a bad idea to have a tv screen showing you what was happening so I looked away. Who needs to see some flesh being snipped away from there!!! I opted to have no local anesthetic although they offered me some. I just had to ‘cough’ as they cut a piece away. That was it – the appointment was over and all I had to do was wait a few weeks for the results.
My first lot of results come back and they told me I had minor changes the cells on my cervix. This is often referred to as CIN1 – this means it’s unlikely the cells will become cancerous and they may even revert back to normal on their own, no treatment is often needed and you will be closely monitored with more frequent smear tests under the colposcopy clinic until they are happy they have all gone. Sometimes the CIN numbers come back a little higher and this page explain all about it if you are worried or have any questions.
Over the next 7 or so years I had smear tests at the colposcopy clinic every 6 months to begin with and after a while, they changed to 12 monthly. On most visits, I would have a biopsy taken for them just to monitor any changes and after about 6 (I think) years I started receiving normal test results – either they ended up cutting out the changed cells with the biopsys they did each time because the area wasn’t very big or they just changed back to normal themselves. During those 7 years I even had a pregnancy (I had asked if it was ok for us to try for a baby) and they said it was. Throughout my pregnancy, I didn’t have any tests, but 8 weeks postpartum I started up my regular checkups again.
I’ve now had 5 or 6 clear results so the NHS have said they are happy for me to revert back to 3 yearly smear tests. I am delighted with these reults but something is making me nervous to go as long between tests seeing as I had them so regulary for alomst 9 years. I may have a look into getting one done privately at some point inbetween the NHS screening just to put my mind at rest.