Cervical Cancer and Smear tests – what you need to know
RTE presenter Maura Derrane launches the Irish Family Planning Association’s Pearl of Wisdom Campaign this week…
Have you had your latest smear? Has your mum, your daughter or your best friend had their free test?
It’s European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and women are being urged to ‘share the wisdom’ and enlighten their female friends and family that cervical cancer can be prevented through regular screening.
The good news is that cervical cancer, a cancer of the cells lining the cervix (neck of the womb), is one of the easiest cancers to detect, thanks to the smear test.
The bad news is that cervical cancer takes a long time to develop and often has no symptoms.
Unfortunately, women often put off getting a smear test because they’re worried it will be painful and embarrassing, don’t be one of them!
According to experts at Cervical Check, cervical cancer is a cancer of young women, with an average age of death of just 56 years-old – and 50% of all cases are diagnosed in women less than 46 years-old.
The Irish Family Planning Association says each year around 300 women in Ireland are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer and over 90 lives lost.
So don’t delay, make sure you book your FREE smear test today – The National Cervical Screening Programme provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60.
It takes seconds to check when a smear test is due, register or change personal details or find a convenient smear taker. You can Freephone 1800 45 45 55 or to find your nearest smear taker, visit Cervical Check.
So what are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Symptoms can include: abnormal vaginal bleeding (such as bleeding in between your periods, after sex, or after the menopause); or discomfort or pain in your pelvis. See your doctor if you experience these symptoms.
For full information on signs and symptoms, visit the Irish Cancer Society.
When’s the best time to have a smear?
The best time to have a smear test is 10-14 days after the start of your last period. If you are not having periods or are menopausal, you can attend for your smear test at any time as long as you are not bleeding.
Also avoid having anything in the vagina 24-48 hours before your smear. This includes:
- spermicides, foams or jellies.
- vaginal inserts (such as pessaries for thrush).
What happens in a smear test?
A smear only takes about 5 minutes. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and lie on your back (with your knees up and apart) on the couch.
Once you’re lying down comfortably, a doctor or nurse will insert a speculum (this looks a bit like a duck’s bill) into your vagina so that the nurse can get access to your cervix. The good news is that speculums are often plastic these days, so no more of those nasty, cold, metal ones!
A brush or spatula is used to gently scrape cells from your cervix.
This might be a little uncomfortable, but shouldn’t be painful.
What about HPV?
Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by persistent infection of certain high-risk types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection but the HPV vaccine has been proven to be almost 100% effective in preventing certain types of the virus that cause 70% of all cervical cancer cases.
A HPV school vaccination programme for girls was introduced in Ireland in 2010 and you can get information from your GP on the timetable for vaccination.
You can also get superb information and advice from the Irish Family Planning Association.