The SMEAR of Life

I spend a great deal of my day-to-day professional career reacting to incidents and “fire fighting” due to people making choices that result in ill health and wellbeing. Cervical Screening being one.

We live in an increasingly reactive society, where it is progressively more difficult to hold back the “I told you so” finger wagging. However, in order for people to take their health and wellbeing seriously and to make the appropriate changes, it is necessary for people to want to make changes and to have confidence that they’ll be able to do it. Part of the process of creating change is to
provide the public with the relevant information in an accessible and inclusive manner, in order to instil a sense of assurance and self-reliance. One of the ways this is achieved is through providing information around public health issues and then providing them with a solution on how to protect themselves.

There are a variety of screening programmes available to both men and women of varying ages dependant on what health issue is being monitored and diagnosed. Cervical screening (previously known as a smear test) is the method used to detect abnormal cells on the cervix.

This screening starts being offered to women from the age of 25 years on the following schedule:

•25-49 years: Every 3 years
•50-64 years: Every 5 years
•Over 65 years: only women who haven’t been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests

So why have cervical screening?

For the simple reason that early detection of abnormal cells which, if left untreated, could potentially become cancerous. Some cells return to normal on their own, therefore a watch and wait approach could be prescribed with a planned follow up screening. Anything more significant tends to be removed before it reaches cancerous stages.

How do I know when I have to have a cervical screen?

You will receive a letter letting you know that it is time for you to have a cervical screen and where you need to make your appointment. Most of the time, you’ll be invited to make the appointment with your GP surgery, but you can also access screening at well woman and sexual health clinics.

What does a cervical screen involve?

A doctor or a nurse will ask you to undress from the waist down and then ask you to lie on a couch. It is possible to remain fully clothed if you are wearing a loose skirt. An instrument called a speculum will be inserted into your vagina, which you may find embarrassing or a bit uncomfortable, but if you feel any pain, tell the practitioner and they will attempt to make you more
comfortable. The speculum is designed to hold the vagina open and allow the cervix to become visible. A small brush is then inserted into the vagina and this is used to collect the cells from the cervix. Samples are sent off to a laboratory and you should receive your results within 2 weeks.

Around 3000 cases of cervical cancer are detected in the UK each year. Around 1 in 20 women will have abnormal results, but this does not necessarily mean cancer, as I wrote about earlier. Since the introduction of cervical screening in the 1980’s, the number of cervical cancer cases has reduced by 7% PER YEAR.

If you have had your letter and are ignoring it out of fear, uncertainty or because you just don’t believe you need it, take some action to PREVENT ill health.

Contact your screening provider and talk through any anxieties or questions you may have. Or log on to NHS Choices for more information about cervical screening.


Read further articles By Alex Sullivan Here:

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