We know, we know, you’ve heard it before – pap smears are important; pap smears are great. So why are we banging on about it again? Because September is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and as you know, we feel strongly about helping our readers stay physically and sexually healthy. We’re going to keep driving the point home to encourage more and more women to have this potentially life-saving screening.
So here’s a quick little riddle: what are a girl’s best friend?
If you answered ‘diamonds’, you’d be wrong – at least in our opinion (sorry, Marilyn Monroe). We believe that pap smears are a girl’s best friend. These quick, simple cervical cancer screening tests can help keep you free of one of the deadliest forms of the disease, so what’s not to love? We also realise you may have a few concerns about these tests, so let’s dive into them to put your mind at ease.
Am I really at risk of cervical cancer?
Any woman can be at risk of cervical cancer, so yes. It’s the most common form of genital cancer and one of the top causes of death amongst women. Pap smears can help prevent it by checking for premalignant lesions, but shockingly, many women don’t even know about this test, or use it – and often it’s not even provided.
What actually happens at a cervical cancer screening (pap smear)?
You’ve probably heard people say that pap smears are painful or embarrassing, and this is not the case. In actual fact, they’re one of the most common and normal medical tests, and although they may be a little uncomfortable, they take less than a minute.
Cervical cancer screening is recommended for all women over the age of 21 who don’t have symptoms of the disease. The test can see whether any pre-cancerous cells exist in your cervix. If this is the case, these cells can be removed before they develop further. Regular pap smears also detect cervical cancer early, when treatment can be most successful.
What causes cervical cancer?
Like with any other type of cancer, there are many health and lifestyle factors that can contribute to the growth of cancerous cells in the cervix. But, where cervical cancer is unique is that we now know that the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes most instances of cervical cancer.
HPV is the most common
of all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and it’s spread through bodily fluids during unprotected sex. There are lots of different types of HPV: some go undetected and cause no issues, while others lead to genital warts and cervical cancer.
6 quick things I should know about cervical cancer?
- Scarily, there are often no symptoms in the early stages of the disease.
- It’s most common in women over 40, but can occur in women as young as their early 20s.
- Risk factors include becoming sexually active early, having unprotected sex, having HPV or being HIV positive, your age, smoking, and living an unhealthy lifestyle.
- Symptoms in later stages include abnormal discharge or bleeding and/or painful sex.
- Cervical cancer treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy or the drug interferon.
- HPV vaccines have been developed to help protect women against the types of HPV that can cause vulvar, vaginal and cervical cancer.
Where can I go for a pap smears?
Pop into any Marie Stopes centre for a pap smear or to get tested for HIV or STIs. Why not take a friend or family member with you? It’ll make you feel more at ease, and it’ll help keep a loved one healthy too. Make an appointment online now.