Cervical Cancer Screening TestsPublished on: 13 March 2019
Everyone will be aware that all women and people with a cervix between the age of 25 and 64 should attend for regular cervical screening (a smear test). A smear test checks the health of the cervix and the NHS website states that it is not a test for cancer, it is a test to help prevent cancer. During the screening a swab is taken from the cervix to test a small sample of cells for changes in the cervix. Again, the NHS website states that “finding abnormal changes early means they can be monitored or treated so they do not get a chance to turn into cervical cancer”. Once the swab is taken and sent away, the patient should receive the results by letter within a few weeks.
Over the years there has been a large amount of press coverage regarding the importance of attending for a smear test. There have been numerous examples of sad situations where people have developed terminal cancer and have campaigned during their illnesses to try and raise awareness of the importance of attending for smear tests. You may recall one such example of this undertaken by reality TV star Jade Goody who sadly passed away as a result of terminal cervical cancer on 22 March 2009 at the age of 27.
Numbers hit an all-time low
Unfortunately, despite the press coverage seeking to encourage women to attend for smear tests, recent reports indicate that the number of women having smear tests has hit a 20 year low. In fact, it has been reported that it has slipped to the lowest level since records began in 1995. As a result, this issue has come to the forefront of media attention once again trying to encourage women to attend for smear tests. It is reported that (and we wrote a blog on this very topic in February last year) the main reason women are not attending appears to be due to embarrassment.
For the first time ever, the government is launching a cervical screening advertising campaign. The campaign, which is being run by Public Health England, has avoided the term "smear test" apparently due to concern that it may be putting people off. We understand that adverts will play out on TV, radio and online for eight weeks and that it stresses the screening is basically just a health check for the cervix. The advert reportedly shows a woman being reminded by family members and friends to go for testing.
In addition to the government’s own campaign, a number of public figures and groups are developing their own campaigns. For example, the regular ITV show Loose Women has started a “Face your Smear” pledge in which they have invited their viewers to go to their website and pledge to go and have their cervical screening check done. This is on the back of their own reports that apparently over 1 in 4 women in the UK are currently overdue their smear test. Celebrities including actress Kym Marsh have also publically spoken out about their own experiences in an effort to encourage people to attend.
Importance of cervical screening
Whilst it is appreciated that it is not the most pleasant way to spend your time, it is very important to get checked and the test could, in fact, pick up changes that can be sorted out long before they become cancerous and life threatening so that must be worth it. We would encourage all women who read this blog to take action and book in if they are overdue their screening. It takes only a few minutes in reality and will be over and done with in no time so you can get on with your day and then hopefully have the reassurance and peace of mind that all is well or, if anything is picked up, it can be sorted out as early as possible before it becomes something scarier.