This edition of the ‘A-Z of patient care’ is for the girls and the ladies. So for International Women’s Day we thought what better way of encouraging our fellow females to take control of their health than by giving them the low-down on what’s down-below…
Why have your cervix screened?
Statistics have revealed that one in four eligible women aged 25-64 do not arrange their smear tests, with one in three being among the 25-29 year-old bracket. For a process that takes around 5 minutes of minor discomfort that can save you a lifetime of worry, that’s a concerning reality for doctors who see roughly 20,000 cases of gynaecological cancer every year. Just under 1,000 women die from cervical cancer every year, and a smear test is a quick, easy, and free way to check that everything is as it should be.
Recent news coverage says that women aren’t attending the cervical smear tests they’re routinely invited to because of body image issues. Most women have compared themselves to another woman who they think looks ‘normal’, but when this is stopping us from taking care of our health, it’s time to remember there’s no such thing as normal because we’re all different. Why are women scared of smear tests? Those who are asked often talk about feeling like they’ll be judged and because they aren't body confident. Nobody is saying those concerns aren’t real, but when a smear test could detect pre-cancerous cells, these worries should become a little less significant.
Testing and the cervical screening programme
So contrary to what you might think, a cervical smear test won’t actually test for cancer. Instead, it tests the health of the cells in your cervix: around 1 in 20 women might be told that they have some abnormal changes in the cells of their cervix. Sometimes, these cells can go back to normal by themselves, but healthcare professionals might opt to remove them instead so they don’t become cancerous. Whilst women of all ages can develop cervical cancer, it mostly affects women aged 30-45.
If you aren’t registered with a GP, you won’t be invited for a cervical screening, so now is a good a time as any to get yourself signed up to a local surgery if you aren’t already. Depending on your age, you’ll get an invite either every 3 years (25-49) or 5 years (50-64). If you’re over 65, you’ll only be invited to attend a screening if you haven’t had one since you were 50 or you recently had abnormal test results.
The only way you fail the test is by not turning up…
When you receive your letter inviting you to book your screening test, it will usually (but not always) be at your local GP surgery. You’re able to ask for a female nurse or doctor if that will make you more at ease. It’s also best to book your appointment midway through your menstrual cycle to offer the best sample of cells possible.
The actual process itself should take no more than 5 minutes. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and lie down and the nurse or doctor will then put an instrument called a speculum into your vagina so that the cervix is visible. Using a small brush, they will then gently collect some cells from the surface of your cervix. Whilst it might be a bit uncomfortable, it’s over pretty quickly.
What happens after?
Your GP or nurse will contact you to let you know when your next appointment should be if there are no abnormal cells following your screening (in the next 3-5 years depending on your age).
If following your cervical screening they find low-grade or borderline cell abnormalities, they will test your sample for HPV (human papilloma virus). If HPV is found, then you’ll be referred for further investigation, and if necessary treatment.
A female revolution – the VernaFem
At Vernacare we believe in empowering women. In collaboration with clinical experts, we brought an innovation to female toileting that healthcare markets really needed, delivering a disposable independent toileting solution for women, reducing the need to be catheterised and the likelihood of CAUTIs as well as preserving patient dignity. The ‘VernaFem’, is a wide-opening female urinal with curved edges, ergonomic design and enough capacity to minimise the risk of spillages. We care about you and that means all of you. You can read more about the VernaFem here.
Whether you call it your lady garden, your ‘Vajayjay’, or simply ‘down below’, by attending your scheduled cervical screenings, your body will thank you for your lifetime.