By Catherine Ross
This one’s for the ladies. What do you do when your smear test reminder comes through the door? Put it in a safe place until you’ve forgotten about it and another three years go by or phone up and book your appointment immediately?
If you fall into the first group, it’s time to change. This week is Cervical Screening Awareness Week. Having a smear test every three years is the very best way of detecting cells that could lead to cervical cancer, the most common cancer is in women under 35.
I understand that a smear test isn’t the most pleasant experience in the world. My last reminder came in between my two children being born. I was so fed up with being prodded and poked and examined that the reminder was put away never to resurface.
I recently received my latest reminder. Serendipitously, in between receiving the reminder and getting round to making the appointment, I learned that a Twitter friend’s mum had died of cervical cancer 20 years previously.
My lovely friend, now a mum herself, has had to grow up, get married and give birth all without her mum by her side. Needless to say, that reminder did not go ignored. I phoned up and made my appointment, just as I will with the next one and the one after that.
Regular screening is mildly uncomfortable and inconvenient, but the discomfort and inconvenience is nothing compared to the risk of leaving pre-cancerous cells untreated. Early detection of these cells (caused by the HPV virus that teenage girls are now vaccinated against) means that treatment is almost 100 per cent successful.
The Cancer Research UK website says that without treatment, these cells will lead to cancer. Every day in the UK nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three will die from the disease.
Yet, one in five women does not attend her smear test, despite the proven, life-saving benefits of doing so. In fact, failing to attend regular screenings is one of the single biggest risk factors of developing cervical cancer.
Ladies, it is time to stop being squeamish, or forgetful. Once every three years, make that appointment. If your test comes back abnormal – and one in 20 will – treatment is quick and straightforward. Don’t leave it too late.