Last year selfies of celebrities with lipstick smeared over their faces circulated wildly around social media for the #SmearforSmear campaign, in order to publicise and celebrate Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January).
Around 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK every year. In fact it is the fourth-most common cancer in women, and most of these cases are detected thanks to routine cervical cancer screenings, otherwise known as smear tests.
Here, Andy Wilkins, CEO of Plutus Health, discusses the importance of cervical screenings, the advantages of ensuring you maintain your appointments and why you shouldn’t be embarrassed to #SmearforSmear.
Cervical cancer affects women’s reproductive system, developing in the cervix and in the most serious cases results in death.
On the positive side, despite it being normal for lining of the cervix to experience changes over the years, it’s actually quite rare for the cervix to produce cells which may turn cancerous. However, it can and does happen and women need to be educated as to the risks.
Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV can be transmitted through any type of sexual contact by any gender. Most types of HPVs are harmless; however certain strains can cause abnormal changes, in some cases leading to cervical cancer. The most dangerous strains, HPV 16 and HPV 18, have no obvious symptoms so many women tend to not notice any physical changes, hence its reputation for being a ‘silent killer’.
In the UK, HPV vaccinations are available to girls aged 12 and 13. Cervical screenings, on the other hand, are available slightly later; from 24 years of age in Wales and 25 years in England. Women are then called for regular check-ups every three years until the age of 50, and every 5 years for women over that age.
The process itself is simple and involves a nurse or doctor scraping the outer layer of the patient’s cervix to collect a sample of cells. These cells are then analysed for any abnormalities. Aside from checking for cervical cancer, the screenings are important to spot any unusual changes to the cervix cells, preventing future health problems.
However despite the fact that the service is completely free and there is a widespread understanding of the dangers of cervical cancer, many women are embarrassed by the thought of the procedure, often not turning up to appointments.
Research conducted by cervical cancer charity Jo’s Trust showed that a quarter of 25-29-year olds did not attend their smear appointment as they thought it would be embarrassing and painful. As for 60-64 year olds, around 16.4% didn’t regularly attend check-ups due to bad past experiences.
Whatever the reasons behind not attending your screening appointments, the fact remains that discovering cervical cancer at an early stage can, in many cases, be the difference between life and death. In fact, Cancer Research UK states that around 95% of women with cervical cancer will survive the disease for five years or more if it’s diagnosed at an early stage, compared with 5% if diagnosed at the latest stage.
There’s no doubt that cervical screenings are an integral part of looking after your overall health, and all women should be mindful to attend appointments as and when they are called for.
Taking proactive steps to look after your health now could have huge benefits for you in the future. So as we enter Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, take this opportunity to consider when the last time you had a smear test was, and if you are over the age of 24 and it was more than three years ago, book an appointment today.. Don’t be embarrassed – this could save your life.
A Plutus Health plan, available for less than £2 a week, can help protect your health by assisting with the cost of regular health screenings, optical or dental appointments, and specialist medical needs.
If you want to find out more about #SmearForSmear (Cervical Cancer Prevention Week) visit http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/cervical-cancer/about/cervical-cancer-screening or https://www.jostrust.org.uk/smearforsmear.
Andy Wilkins in the CEO of Plutus Health
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