Did you know 14th – 20th June 2021 is cervical screening awareness week? Cervical screening, also known as a smear test, is used to check the health of the cervix. It’s also the primary method used of detecting abnormal cells early, before they develop into cancer. The current government guidelines recommend that all people with a cervix attend regular cervical screening appointments between the ages of 25 and 64.
Like any cancer, the earlier that cervical cancer is detected, the more effectively it can be treated. Research shows that when detected at an early stage, the 5-year survival rate for people with invasive cervical cancer is 92%. But that’s only if everyone who should have regular screening attends their appointments. And for many people, it’s the invasiveness of the screening procedure that keeps them away and puts them at risk of being diagnosed with cervical cancer later into the disease.
We share Dee’s story
In honour of cervical screening awareness week, allow me to introduce myself; my name is Dee Primett and I’m the health copywriter for RMDM. Since I have an experience with cervical cancer, RMDM asked me to share my story to help spread awareness about current cervical screening methods.
Cervical screening saved my life
It was a routine cervical screening appointment that detected I had severely abnormal cervical cells back in 2012. Further investigation was recommended, and after a colposcopy appointment to take a sample, I was diagnosed with stage 1 cervical cancer. I was just 29 years old. Fortunately, early detection meant that I could have the cancerous cells removed surgically, without the need for chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
I was referred for a cone biopsy, which is a procedure used to remove a larger chunk of the cervix. Complications following surgery led to me suffering a life-threatening haemorrhage, and further emergency was needed to stop the bleeding. The surgeons successfully removed all of the cancerous cells. However, I was advised to have further colposcopies every 6 months for several years and then yearly cervical screening for up to 5 years following that to monitor any cervical changes.
For most women, a smear test is a slightly uncomfortable and embarrassing experience. After having had two children and two episiotomies (which are fairly common in childbirth), I always found cervical screening more than a little uncomfortable. However, with another few surgeries and physical and emotional scarring behind me, nothing quite prepared me for the trauma of future smear tests. Every appointment is excruciatingly painful. I’ve been left with very little cervix to swab, which is high and difficult to reach through a tilted womb and excessive scar tissue. I’ve asked doctors for sedatives or pain relief, but been fobbed off with placebos and excuses and looked at like I’m weak. I’ve explained to nurses how traumatising the experience is for me, and been met with absolutely no compassion. At my last smear test the nurse failed to use enough lubrication, used the wrong size speculum and struggled to take an adequate sample, leaving me having a panic attack on the table as she spent nearly 15 minutes causing me intense pain. Needless to say, I left in tears and am already dreading my next appointment. I’m not alone either.
Invasive screening can be distressing
There are countless people like me, who find current cervical screening methods extremely distressing. This could be due to previous medical trauma, sexual abuse, disability, or any other number of reasons. That’s why the government needs to explore alternative screening methods. I’d never skip cervical screening despite the distress it causes me – it saved my life after all. But many people still believe it won’t happen to them and they won’t hesitate to avoid their routine screening appointments because of the invasiveness of the procedure.
As a specialist health copywriter, it’s my job to write health content. But from a personal point of view, I am extremely passionate about finding new and improved cancer diagnostic techniques, including those which are much less invasive. It’s for this reason I am particularly pleased to be working with RMDM whose commitment to Diagnostics have enabled them to develop a viable alternative – PanTum Detect. For people like me who find invasive cervical screening extremely traumatic, the liquid biopsy technique of PanTum Detect could enable efficient screening with minimal distress. There is no doubt in my mind that less invasive screening methods could save lives, particularly of people who choose to avoid conventional testing.
For more information about cervical screening awareness week, check out Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website. You can find out more about PanTum Detect by downloading our whitepaper or feel free to contact us using the form on our website.