Friday, 15 August 2014

Cervical Screening, Eh? Let's Talk About That For A While!

I don't normally do posts like this but as this is also a lifestyle blog and health is a big part of lifestyle, I wanted to have a quick chat with yiz about smear tests. 
I've never had any scares or worrying test results so this isn't going to be one of those warning posts but I guess I just wanted to emphasise the importance of what is a very minor, very quick and very easy procedure that in spite of it's anxiety-causing ways can put your mind at ease at the very least and at the very best, save your life. 


In Ireland you can get free smear tests from the age of 25, you get sent a letter from the National Cervical screening program (Cervical Check Ireland) inviting you to take up the offer of a free smear test and once you have done so, you're on their system forever and it's free until you're 60. I think that's a pretty brilliant system if I'm honest. For my last smear I will admit I kept putting it off, but not out of fear, purely from never having a convenient time and I received another two follow up letters from them asking me why I still hadn't had my appointment! Alright, pushy! But that's great, it's nice to see a service in this country that's designed purely for the health of women that works efficiently. 

A quick note on why the age you start smears is 25; the National Screening program currently don't recommend starting smears before that age.
Because it's a time of continuous cell changes with regards to hormones and sexual activity, you run the risk of getting false positives before the age of  25. In order to prevent you from having unnecessary follow up smears/treatment, it's recommended to wait til you're 25.  You can obviously request to have a smear before 25 but you will have to pay for it and you may come up against resistance from your dr or nurse as most research suggests it's a waste of time screening before that age.
It's also important to note that it's recommended that you have a test regardless of your sexuality or if you're not sexually active, as cell changes within the cervix can still occur.


So basically the test itself is looking for changes in the cells of your cervix (neck of the womb). If abnormal cells are picked up early, they're easier to treat. As well as checking your cells in this test, the lab will also see if there's any HPV detected. This stands for Human Papilloma Virus and is found in roughly 80% of the population, so it's very common. It can be passed through sexual contact.  There is a strong link between it and cervical cancer so all smear tests now include a screening for HPV. You may have heard of the Gardasil HPV vaccine also, but that's a discussion for another day!

The appointment takes about 15 minutes; you lie on your back, the nurse/dr passes a speculum (plastic medical device to visualise the cervix) through your vagina and takes a small sample of the cells using a little brush (sounds funny, I know) which is then sent off to the lab for testing. 
Being perfectly honest, it can be uncomfortable and a bit embarrassing but the best advice is to take a few deep breaths, let all your muscles relax and it'll be over before you know it. Also good advice is to wear a dress and tights, weather permitting. Once you've taken off your tights you won't feel quite as exposed cause you'll still have your dress on..clever, eh? 

Speculum, not as bad as you thought!

Then you wait to get your letter in the post with your results, which can take up to 10 weeks. All being well, you won't need another test for three years. Otherwise, if you need follow-up, you'll be contacted by the person who took your smear to discuss further action. Often this can mean that "changes" have been found and these can vary from "low grade", which are minor, can be quite common and can often return to normal on their own but they still require a follow up smear in 6 months time. If there are further changes at that stage you may be referred for a colposcopy (which is a more in depth examination of the cervix). 
If "high grade changes" are found on that initial test, you would be referred to a colposcopy clinic straight away. 

While that sounds really scary, it's important to remember that the majority of tests come back normal or negative so putting potential worry aside for a minute, this is a simple test that is actually really important and will be over quickly.

Anything you can do to prevent cervical cancer? The good news is, yes, there is! 
1) Have regular smear tests
2) Give up smoking- you may not want to hear it but smoking damages your immune system, increasing your risk of HPV (Human Papilloma Virus, as we discussed earlier!)
3) Don't ignore symptoms like irregular bleeding, spotting or discharge
4) Get your daughters vaccinated against HPV (in 1st year of secondary school and there's also a catch-up vaccine when they're in 6th year).


You can get more information HERE from Cervical Check Ireland and fellow blogger Laura from My Make Up Perspective made an excellent video on the importance of smear tests HERE which is also well worth a watch. 

What about you, do smear tests freak you out a bit? Have you been putting it off or is it just something you get on with?
Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips for anyone who feels a bit anxious about them and how you deal with it.
XX

17 comments:

  1. Great post chloe..I personally have had two colposcopys' and loop diathermy treatment so know how important it is, good on you for posting about such an important issue! Get your smears girls!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story Mary, it is so important, the more we can do to promote it the better! xx

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  2. Good post, Chloe.

    I've had abnormal results in the past, so currently have annual smear tests. I must make an appointment on Monday as my reminder letter came the other day and I just threw it on the table. So, thanks for the additional reminder.

    I'm glad you mentioned that smear tests are necessary regardless of sexuality. I think and hope things have changed with awareness to this fact, but I have heard of LGBTQ (particularly lesbians) coming up against confusion when they've requested smear tests in the past. Easily fixed by finding someone else to do the test, but frustrating for the people involved.

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    1. I've heard about confusion regarding that too Paula, there definitely needs to be more of an emphasis on it so the information gets out there I think. Best of luck with your upcoming test! X

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  3. My patients always tell me they've been putting it off due mostly to anxiety relating to the possible results and fear of the exam itself but when is done they realise how quick it is and the vast majority are normal so most people feel relief! If your healthy and a non smoker and come in contact with the hpv virus your body generally fights the virus off itself and doesn't cause any changes in the cells of the cervix so that's why we don't recommend smears before 25 as we could pick up viral changes that the body would deal with itself but the person has now been entered into a system of rechecks, possible colposcopys which could be avoided! great post chloe.hopefully it will make people think about getting one! ;-)

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    1. Yeah I was trying to keep the word count down so I left a lot of that detail out! Thanks for popping it down here though :) x

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  4. Great post.. Such an important topic. I've had to have a colposcopy in the past after abnormal results but thankfully all was fine. The staff in the rotunda are absolutely amazing. They had me laughing the whole way through my examination.

    I learnt the importance of smear tests the hard way as my mam died from cervical cancer. I would never take a chance a skip a test.

    Kel x

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    1. Oh Kelly, I'm so sorry to hear that about your mum, I hope this wasn't too upsetting to have to read. xx

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    2. Not at all. I did a post on it myself once. Should be brought up more. I just assumed everyone went for their regular smears until my 36 yr old friend told me she had never had one 😦

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  5. Brilliant post. I love the tip about wearing a dress, I've also given that advice - it's just so relaxing to not have to look at your jeans on the floor in an office. I was called for my second ever smear when I was pregnant with the twins, so obviously couldn't go - and it's amazing how much it played on my mind afterwards. I waited a minimum of 6 months on GP advice and after he haunted me and then the nurse practically stalked me via phone, I went in July. I found it much less uncomfortable than the first ever time, and it wasn't at all sore after pregnancy, which I was worried about. I didn't get my results back for 3 weeks, but everything is A-OK and I'm sorted for another few years. HUGE relief, considering it's something that can get serious quite quickly if ignored, I think it's so, so important and tend to hound female relatives a little bit about it. A first cousin of mine had abnormal cells and she is perfectly fine now, and has also recently had another child. I think the fear of the unknown stops people going for it - but abnormalities don't mean cancer. SO important to keep reminding people about this, thank you! AND IT'S NOT PAINFUL. It takes like 30 seconds. I like to sing in my head.

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    1. Delighted you get a break now for three years, it's such a relief. I have to have yearly ones but don't mind as it's just precautionary. It's definitely the fear of the unknown, but as you say if it's going to be a worrying result it's more than likely just "abnormal cells", not necessarily cancer and you always feel so much better once it's done and over with. Definitely not painful but I think it can be a bit uncomfortable especially depending on where the cervix is (if it's farther back it can be a bit harder to get to for example). Singing in your head is a great idea- any sort of distraction is a good way to go I think. I love that in my dentists they have a tv on the ceiling so you can just stare away at that and try and ignore what else is going on- maybe health centres & family planning centres should consider the same ;)

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  6. thanks for the post, it's very informative. I think maybe I've gotten it done once only? too few times for sure. Need to find some time to do it again for sure! thanks for the reminder!

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    1. You're very welcome, glad to be of help! x

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  7. Great post Chloe, I had one just before I fell pregnant and I'll go back for another at 6 months postpartum just to be sure but I do think it's hugely important. I would have been one of the girls who is mortified at this type of exam but pregnancy forced me into having to have my bits out so much that I've lost all that now and am happy if it's something keeping me healthy:) Love the dress tip!

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    1. Good plan, best to stay on top of them. Yeah the last time I forgot about my own dress tip and really regretted it! Won't forget that again!

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  8. I'm feeling all virtuous now as I just had mine. I had a really nice nurse who was very thoughtful about it and reassuring.

    I also got around to going back to the GP for another cancer check as the first Dr I saw looked like he was fresh out of med school, Googled the issue a bit and vaguely said nothing much about my request to be tested. This time I got a good Dr who took my family history seriously and popped me straight on the waiting list for a test.

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    1. Glad to hear you're getting sorted AND being super proactive! It's always a bit scary getting these things done but then it's such a relief once it's over.

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