As worrying new research is published about how many women sidestep their smear, we asked Standard Issue contributors to recount memorable moments from the examination table.
As Cervical Cancer Prevention Week hits its stride, new research by charity Jo’s Trust tells us that out of the five million women invited to attend a smear test in England last year, cracking on for quarter of a million young women, between the ages of 25 and 29, opted not to do so.
How come? Well, the fact that two thirds of them are unaware of the role a smear test plays in preventing cervical cancer must have had something to do with it.
In addition, there’s apparently widespread worry about embarrassment in this age group. Nearly three quarters of the 25-29-year-olds the researchers talked to, said they didn’t feel comfortable getting undressed in front of doctors or nurses. However (and you might want to clear a space to plant your head onto here) almost one in 10 would consider surgery to alter the way their genitals look.
Overall, the number of women attending smear tests is at a 19-year low.
It seems a week devoted to raising awareness of the ways in which you can guard against being among the 3,200 women diagnosed with the disease every year, is entirely sensible.
To coincide with the release of this research, Jo’s Trust is relaunching its award winning #SmearForSmear campaign which aims to trumpet the importance of attending potentially life-saving smear tests.
Robert Music, chief executive of the Trust, said: “Smear tests prevent 75 per cent of cervical cancers from developing, yet over 220,000 of the 25-29 year olds invited for a smear test in England in the last year did not attend.
“Every woman is invited for a smear test from the age of 25 and this test can literally save a life. We want to ensure smear tests are not something women are ashamed or scared of talking about, or do not think are important to attend.
“#SmearForSmear aims to tackle some of the stigma and misconceptions that exist around smear tests and to encourage more women to attend. One in three diagnoses of cervical cancer are in women under 35, and by not attending smear tests, young women are increasing their risk of developing a disease that claims three lives every day in the UK.”
Standard Issue couldn’t be more on board with this sentiment, and asked our, ahem, crack team of writers for their smear stories.
I went for a smear test, and when the nurse was actually completely engaged in peering up at my cervix, she suddenly sighed and said, “You know what? I hate this job.”
I was nervous for my first smear test. That particular area had only had three visitors; one of those was me, and one was my mam when I ‘split my difference’ years before running around a slippy pub and she had to put some cream on.
I was surprised with how blah everyone was. So nonplussed. Just another fanny to them and I assumed I was in the top half of fannies in that it was clean and trimmed back for access.
The nurse cranked me open with the car jack, did what she needed to and when it came to uncrank, she couldn’t. My excellent (thank you) nunny muscles wouldn’t let it go.
She stood back and in the broadest Geordie accent said, “Flower, you’re gonna have to relax. Or you’ll be taking that thing home with you.”
Smear tests are just like the dentist. It’s gotta be done, so get it looked at regularly and the rest of the time, fill it with sweets. I’m not sure this analogy has completely worked.
“I like to make quacking noises when they open the speculum. I do this with my mouth.”
Last time I went, the nurse told me I had a “shy cervix”.
I’ve only had two… I always find it just generally hilarious talking about literally anything with those contraptions doing their thing. Last time I had one it was just before I went on tour, and I remember staring at the ceiling answering about performing on stage in Australia thinking to myself: “I bet someone somewhere did this as a show once; performing with things up there. Oh wait, I’m thinking of sex shows.”
I used my daughter’s glittery soap by mistake as it was on the side of the bath to ‘freshen up’ ahead of said test, and then had to listen to a sniggering nurse as my foof looked like I had made a bit more of an effort than was strictly necessary.
I like to make quacking noises when they open the speculum. I do this with my mouth.
My last one was a little overdue because the time before hurt and I bled quite a bit. I told the nurse about it and she said she’d be extra gentle. It wasn’t as painful as the last time but while she was taking the sample I commented, “It feels so weird.” She was shocked and told me that most people don’t feel the sample being taken and that I have a very sensitive cervix.
I went to leave the room and that was the only point I felt awkward. “Thank you for being gentle with my sensitive cervix,” and she winked at me. See you in three years, speculum!
• Around five million UK women are invited to cervical screening each year.
• Women aged 25-49 are invited every three years and women aged 50-64 are invited every five years.
• The majority (99.7 per cent) of cervical cancers are caused by persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection which causes changes to the cervical cells.
• HPV is an extremely common virus; around four out of five people will contract the virus in their lifetime and anyone who is sexually active can be infected with it. The body’s immune system will usually clear it up.
• Women who have received the HPV vaccine are still advised to attend cervical screening when they reach 25.
• 220,000 UK women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities each year.
• More than 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 890 women lose their lives every year.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is the UK’s only dedicated charity offering support and information to women of all ages and their loved ones affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. The National Helpline is on 0808 802 8000.4013 Views