In a recent survey our medical student Kat asked patients the reasons why they hadn’t booked for their routine smear test.
We have reviewed all of your responses and one area that stood out was being able to discuss any worries or concerns prior to your appointment. We would like to reassure you that you CAN do this, either face to face or by telephone. Please ask reception to book you a ‘pre smear chat’ with one of our nurses. The nurse will then book you in for your smear if you are happy to go ahead.
You are more than welcome to bring someone with you to your appointment if it helps you to feel more comfortable.
Please remember that is YOUR choice to have a smear, and you DO have the right to opt out.
We also wanted to bust a few myths regarding cervical screening.
I’m not sure screening really works
Since the NHS cervical screening programme was introduced in the UK in 1988, death rates from cervical cancer have dropped by 70%, and it’s estimated it saves 5,000 lives a year across the UK.
There’s a vaccine now which stops cervical cancer
Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are indeed due to a virus called HPV, and in particular two ‘high-risk’ strains (16 and 18) responsible for about 70% of cases.
The HPV vaccine targets these strains, and infection rates with strains 16 and 18 have dropped by 86% among 16- to 21-year-olds. But you won’t have had it routinely if you’re over 23, and even if you do have the vaccine, it’s still important to attend for smears, because it won’t prevent 100% of cases.
I’m too young to get cancer
All women are invited for screening from the age of 25. 25- to 29-year-olds are less likely than any other age group to take up their screening invitation, yet most likely to have an abnormality detected. In fact, 63% of all pre-cancers are found in women in this age group.
Smears can be a bit uncomfortable for a couple of minutes, but they definitely shouldn’t be painful.
If you’re anxious, it can make you tense up more: let your smear taker know if you’re feeling a bit nervous, and she’ll stop immediately if you’re uncomfortable. Smears are often more uncomfortable after the menopause, when vaginal dryness becomes an issue. Give your GP a ring a few weeks before you attend; they can prescribe oestrogen cream to help make the vaginal tissues more springy.
I don’t need a smear if I’m gay
This is one of the most worrying myths about cervical screening – LGBT people who are called for cervical screening are up to ten times less likely to attend than straight women. Yet HPV isn’t fussy – it can be passed on by any intimate contact, not just heterosexual vaginal sex.
I’ve had normal smears for 30 years – I’m not going to get cancer now
Women over 50 are more likely than any other age group to have regular smears, but take-up rates are dropping in this age group too. More than one in three cervical cancers occur in women over 50, and those who are diagnosed are more likely to have advanced stage cancer.
You’ve prioritised your health until now. Please don’t stop until we tell you it’s safe to stop!
I’ve never had sexual contact with a man – am I at risk of developing cervical cancer?
If you’ve never had sexual contact with a man, you are at low risk, but not at no risk, of developing cervical cancer. It is still not entirely clear what causes abnormalities to develop. Often, it is because a virus has infected the cervix. This virus is called human papilloma virus (HPV) and is passed on during sexual contact. HPV can be passed on in other forms of sexual activity apart from full intercourse. This applies to heterosexual women, bisexual women and lesbians. HPV is passed on through body fluids. This means that oral sex, transferring vaginal fluids on hands and fingers, or sharing sex toys can all be ways of being exposed to HPV.