You know me, I like to be open and honest on my blog and social media, so today I want to talk about a subject which may come across as a bit embarrassing, maybe a little TMI, but let’s talk about it anyway.
Cervical screenings are at a 20-year low. 2 women die every day from cervical cancer. 15% of lesbian and bisexual women are not going for their cervical screening.
As a female and a member of the LGBT community it’s time I started to use my platform, this little soapbox I’ve built to speak about these things, even if doing so does make me feel slightly like hiding behind my hands and diverting the conversation to chat about the weather, like the British person I am. It shouldn’t be that way. Cervical screening takes minutes and saves lives, that IS worth talking about.
ABOUT CERVICAL SCREENINGS
So, let’s go back to basics – I didn’t realise until recently but your Cervical Screening is to check the health of the cervix, rather than to check for cervical cancer. The test means abnormal changes can be detected early and can be monitored or treated so they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer down the line.
Year upon year, the amount of women taking up their invite for a cervical screening is declining. We are at a 20 year low. I remember 10 years ago when Jade Goody passed away there was a flurry of women booking appointments, but sadly, those numbers have dwindled again and honestly, I get it – it’s not exactly the most fun or comfortable appointment! With our lives busier than ever it makes more sense to just put it off than to get it done and I’ll hold my hands up and say I’ve been guilty of that in the past too.
Did you know that last year 690 women died of cervical cancer? Thats 2 every day. Two lives are lost EVERY day. This needn’t be the case – it is estimated that if everyone attended screening regularly, 83% of cervical cancer deaths could be prevented.
I was also shocked to find out that 15% of lesbian and bisexual women over 25 have never had a cervical screening compared to 7% of women in general. This could be for many reasons, often lesbian women don’t think that they need to be screened because they don’t have sex with men. However, you can get HPV from any kind of skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, not just from penetrative sex.
So, both here and on my Instagram I want to share my experience of going for a cervical screening to help normalise the conversation about cervical screening. Hopefully if we all just talk about it, the process will become normal and in turn will help to reduce some of the stigma and embarrassment. Those few short minutes could help to save your life.
Last week I had my appointment. I’m 33 so I’ve previously had 2 screenings, this was my third. I’m not going to lie, I did feel apprehensive, even after 2 rounds of IVF and two births (thats a LOT of intimate medical examinations) it’s still really natural to feel a bit nervous and uncomfortable, I don’t think that ever goes away. If you feel like that too – it’s totally normal. Luckily, the nurse I had was so friendly and lovely and put me at ease straight away. She gave me privacy to get changed and comfortable and we chatted away as she carried out my screening.
The actual test itself I wouldn’t say is painful in any way, but uncomfortable – yes but only for moments. I find taking some deep breaths help to relax me – I actually remembered my hypnobirthing breathing techniques and did that for a few moments before which really helped. I soon found myself distracted by the lovely chatty nurse and before I knew it we were all done and it was time to get dressed and on my merry way.
I was probably in the Dr’s surgery about 10 minutes in total, most of those in the waiting room nervously scrolling Instagram or getting changed (pondering whether to scrunch or fold my clothes on the chair is always something that runs through my mind, also – socks on or off?) The actual procedure lasted seconds.
When I came out I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders – I had done it and honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. I often find I build medical appointments up in my mind and they are never as bad as I had thought. I now just need to wait for my results letter, which should follow in a couple of weeks and hopefully that’s me done for 3 years now.
As a woman and a mother I find it goes against the grain to put myself and my health first as a priority. I’m so used to caring for others it’s easy to forget about myself along the way. As I have no symptoms, it’s all too easy to ignore and to palm it off for another week, filling my diary with softplay dates and messy play classes instead. Coming out of my appointment I felt empowered and proud I’d put myself forward as ultimately I need to be my best for my girls in the long run too. I can’t help but think of Jade Goody who left behind two beautiful boys and couldn’t bear to even consider being in that situation too.
- If you have a cervix you need to get tested – It doesn’t matter on your sexuality or how you identify – if you have a cervix you need to get yourself screened.
- If you are between the ages of 25 and 64 you’ll need a cervical screening every 3-5 years depending on age
- Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) which is a common virus that 4 out of 5 (80%) of us will have at some point during our lives.
- It’s important to attend your cervical screening when invited as you are still at risk of cervical cancer even if you don’t have sex with men.
- If you are a trans man aged 25 to 64 who is registered with a GP as female, you will be routinely invited for cervical screening.
- If you are a trans man aged 25 to 64 who is registered with a GP as male, you won’t be invited for cervical screening. However, if you have not had a total hysterectomy and still have a cervix, you should still consider having cervical screening.
So, it’s clear to say it’s so, so important to get your screening done and those 5 minutes could save your life. We are blessed with a wonderful NHS who will screen us for free (and provide all the treatment too) so all we need to do now is turn up. Thats all. Since the NHS launched the cervical screening programme, it has made a significant impact on the number of deaths from cervical cancer, saving an estimated 5,000 lives a year, but it could save even more.
Please, please don’t ignore your cervical screening invite. If you missed your last cervical screening, book an appointment with your GP practice now. Please encourage the ones you love to go for their appointment.
Post written in paid partnership with Public Health England