I try to keep my blog on focus – my hip and horses. Today I’m going to talk about cervical screening. I’ll try not to go into too much detail, I’m not going to be gross but this is something I feel passionate about and if I can make just ONE person listen to me on this subject, it will have been worth writing.
First, a fact: cervical screening (or smear testing if that’s what you want to call it) is offered FREE on the NHS to 25-49 year olds every 3 years (and less frequently for older women). Not only that but follow ups and treatment are also free, should you need it.
In 2009, school girls in the UK up to the age of 18 were offered the HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer. I was in the right age bracket and I had the series of jabs. In the same year, the very sad passing of Jade Goody was well publicised in the media and as a result of this, smear test attendance nationally went up. When you are 18, 25 seems a long way away and having had the vaccine, I never thought I would have an issue.
Last year I turned 25, I had my letter, I rang the GP, I booked a convenient evening appointment which wouldn’t affect work and I went for my cervical screening. Having spoken to a few people about it beforehand I was expecting it to be a traumatic experience. I can honestly say it was fine – yes, mild discomfort for a tiny amount of time but really fine. I was pretty sure that that would be the end of that for another three years.
A letter in the post a few weeks later told me I had to have a colposcopy to further investigate my cervical cells – this time at the hospital. I won’t lie, I was completely freaked out and pretty nervous about the whole thing. My friend took me so that I had some pre and post appointment moral support but the whole experience was nothing like what my brain had built it up to be. If you think of American TV shows that feature gyno visits, they are pretty bang on (on your back, legs in ‘stirrups’!) I had a specialist nurse doing the procedure, a further nurse helping her and then another one stood by my head chatting to me and making sure I was ok. Again, slight discomfort, took no time at all, minimal after effects. And again I was sure that would be the end of that.
The letter in the post diagnosed CIN 1 abnormal cells which means unlikely/mild risk of developing cervical cancer. No further treatment was needed, it said the abnormalities should go away by themselves but I would be invited back for a cervical screening in a year rather than three, just to make sure.
This year, aged 26, I got another letter. It was just as easy to book my cervical screening appointment, it was just as convenient time wise and it was the most insignificant doctors appointment I have ever had. I’m pretty sure when the nurse was done I said ‘was that it?’ Obviously a colposcopy is a bit more of a big deal than a basic smear and I think I had forgotten how quick and simple it was. I was fairly sure that the abnormalities from last year would be gone and that I wouldn’t have any come back this year.
The letter inviting me for another colposcopy came three weeks before my hip replacement date. Cue major panic. Judging by normal appointment wait times, I wouldn’t be able to have it before my operation. A quick phone call later, the team at Cheltenham General booked me in for an emergency appointment in a weeks time, before their clinic actually opened. That’s right, they essentially made an exception for me in order to get it sorted – if that doesn’t show how important this stuff is, I don’t know what does!
This time I wasn’t worried, I went on my own and went straight to work afterwards. I had the same team for my second colposcopy, it was quick, simple and fine. The longest part of the appointment was sharing my concern with the specialist that I was in the same position a second time in the space of a year. She said that the likelihood was that stress had stopped my body from kicking the issue and that’s why I was still in that position. When I look at the year, a full time teaching job then moving jobs, houses and yards, getting put on the list for a hip replacement and moving jobs, houses and yards again is probably enough to consider the year stressful! It has certainly made me think about my health when considering my future ventures. The specialist said that if my cells were mildly abnormal this time they would be left for another year and if they were still there then, they would be removed.
In the early stages of hip replacement recovery, I got another letter. This time the letter in the post diagnosed CIN 2 which means moderately abnormal cells. Not only had the risk not disappeared but it had increased. The letter told me I needed to have the cells removed and gave me an appointment date for mid July – less than a month after my hip surgery. It was quite clear that getting these cells removed was a sooner the better kind of situation. I checked with both my physio and my consultant (poor guy, he wants to know about my hip not my cervix!) about the logistics of getting in a position to have the procedure (American TV show style) which wasn’t deemed to be a problem. Unfortunately, I would still be on blood thinners in mid July so my appointment was pushed back two weeks.
Today I had the abnormal cells removed. I had the same team as I had for my colposcopys, the format of the appointment was the same and the only difference was that instead of taking biopsys of my cells, they were being removed. I had Loop Diathermy (LLETZ) treatment which involves having a local anaesthetic in the relevant area (which I did NOT feel) and then having the cells removed using a thin wire loop which is heated with an electric current. Sounds not particularly nice but again, mild discomfort was the extent of what I felt. The worst part of the appointment was being told I probably shouldn’t go to work for a few days and that I might have bleeding for quite a few weeks. Some studies say that having abnormal cells removed can lead to a slight increase in having a premature baby and others say that can be the case if you have ever had any pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. I can’t really comment on the after affects of the treatment as I only had it today apart from feeling a bit lightheaded directly afterwards and the expected tummy soreness etc. I can’t predict whether this will be the end of my dealings with the lovely ladies at the colposcopy clinic in Cheltenham, fingers crossed for my results letter in five weeks time and my next screening in six months!
Why have I written a thousand words about the adventures of my poor cervix I hear you cry! Simply because the ‘Jade Goody effect’ is long gone. So many people, friends, mums of friends and obviously many many strangers, don’t go to cervical screening appointments when they are invited. People even ring the hospital clinic to refuse treatment of their abnormal cells! Here is my plea.
If/when you are invited, go.
- A few moments of awkwardness/discomfort/bleeding is nothing compared to what you would have to go through if you developed cervical cancer.
- If you are old enough to legally let a male (or female) near your private parts, you are old enough to let a nurse!
- The horror stories aren’t all true, the equipment used these days has improved significantly since screening was introduced.
- You will generally be well informed about what to expect and can therefore mentally prepare yourself. With each letter and appointment I have had leaflets about what to expect.
- The appointments are quick and easy, the NHS want you to attend so they make it as easy for you as they can.
- Set a good example for your friends/Mum/sister/daughter. You may never have an issue but you might be saving their life by getting them to go.
- Not all cancers can be predicted or tested for in this way. If you can do something to reduce the risk of getting cancer, why wouldn’t you?
If anyone has any questions about anything I have written or actually wants to know the gory details so that they know what to expect, contact me . Like I said, if I can help one person, writing this has been worth it.
Finally, whether you are pre smear or having further investigations, don’t google it.