IT'S a daunting sight.
A nurse snapping on her gloves, and approaching you down there with what looks like a plastic beak – yes, like a birds.
Then comes the cold, it makes you gasp then wince for a second.
But it's closely replaced by a strange sensation of the nurse gently cranking the beak open.
Yes, having a smear test is a bit uncomfortable.
Yes, it's definitely not something any women would choose to do.
But you know what, it's a walk in the park – a piece of p*ss – when you compare those few minutes with years of agonising, cancer treatment.
Millions of women are failing to go for their smear tests – and rates have dropped to the lowest level in 10 years, since Jade Goody died of cervical cancer.
That's millions of women who are putting themselves at risk of cervical cancer.
Around 3,200 new cases of the disease are diagnosed every year – that's around nine women a day being handed a potential death sentence.
But it doesn't have to be that way. That's why The Sun's Fabulous launched the #CheersForSmears campaign – to raise awareness and encourage all women to do their bit.
The screening test is there, it's available and it could save your life.
You have to go for a smear test once every three years at my age – that's 10-minutes of feeling a bit uncomfortable every three years.
Weigh that up against potentially being told you have cervical cancer and it should be a no-brainer.
So, what is putting women off?
Why are so many bright, strong women putting their own lives on the line? And what is the real truth about smear tests? Here are four things I wish every women knew…
1. Nurses do NOT care what your vagina looks like
Nurses have seen it all – waxed, fuzzy, full on 70s bush-stylee.
They are not there to judge your preferred style of pubic hair, they are there to do a job – one that could save your life.
Don't get me wrong, I get it. It's embarrassing.
As women we are conned into thinking there is a "normal" way our vaginas should look – I blame porn.
THE STATS DON'T LIE
- 5,000 women’s lives are saved a year in the UK by cervical screening.
- 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.
- 99.8% of cervical cancer cases are preventable.
- 870 women die every year in the UK from cervical cancer.
- 1 in 142 UK females will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in their lifetime.
- 25-29 years peak rate of cervical cancer cases.
When the reality is there's a million different versions of normal, it's what makes us women so wonderful.
Nurses couldn't care less, they aren't studying your vagina and giving it a mark out of 10.
They aren't going to go home and recount the explicit details of your lady garden to their nearest and dearest.
They just want to get the beak in and out, as quickly as possible – and with as little discomfort as poss.
So, next time you put off going for a smear test because you're embarrassed, have a little word with yourself – or DM me and I'll give you some tough love.
2. It's not that uncomfortable really
I'm not going to lie to you, of course it's a bit uncomfortable.
But honestly, it only takes a few minutes.
And let's face it, there are many things in life that are worse.
Child birth, back pain, migraines… oh and cancer.
Getting cervical cancer is much worse – and the treatment is much more unpleasant, believe me.
3. They really DO matter
Smear tests save more than 4,000 lives every year.
It is a way of detecting abnormal cells on the cervix – the entrance to the womb from the vagina.
These abnormal cells are the ones that can turn cancerous, so a smear is a way of catching the disease in its earliest stage.
Early signs you could have cervical cancer
Early signs can include:
1. Abnormal bleeding (during or after sex, between periods and also post-menopause)period
The most common and earliest sign of cervical cancer tends to be irregular bleeding.
It happens when the cancer cells grow on the tissue below the cervix.
It's an especially alarming sign in postmenopausal women who no longer have periods. There's no age limit to developing cervical cancer.
2. Unusual vaginal discharge
Everyone's discharge is different, so it's a case of knowing what is normal for you.
If you find that the colour, smell and consistency has changed, then that's something you really need to have checked out.
When cancer lacks oxygen, it can cause an infection which leads to strange smelling discharge.
3. Discomfort or pain during sex
Pain during sex can be a sign of a number of different issues, but one is cervical cancer.
Because the disease often comes with no symptoms, pain during intercourse is one of the key indicators. It can be a sign that the cancer is spreading to surrounding tissues.
4. Lower back pain
It could be down to you straining something in the gym, or it could be a warning sign that something's wrong with your reproductive organs.
Persistent pain – just one off twinges – in the lower back, pelvis or appendix can be a symptom of cervical cancer.
5. Unintended weight loss
While effortless weight loss might sound like the answer to many of our prayers, it's never a good sign if it happens seemingly without cause.
A loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss tend to be signs that the body isn't working properly – it's trying to conserve energy. If you notice that you're not eating as you normally do, go to your GP.
As the disease progresses, it can also result in:
- increased need to pee
- blood in pee
- bleeding from the bottom
- lower limb swelling
Early diagnosis is key when it comes to all cancers.
If you're diagnosed at stage 1 your chance of living five years or more is 95 per cent.
But caught at stage 4 – the most advanced stage – and that falls off a cliff to just five per cent.
The numbers don't lie, a smear test makes sense!
4. Having a 'tilted cervix' is normal
Start chatting with your girlfriends about smear tests and at least one will pipe up with, "I was told I've got a wonky cervix".
There are a couple of different types of "wonky".
There's a "tilted" cervix – which is perfectly normal.
It just means your cervix sits slightly differently in the vagina, and it can cause sex to be a bit painful.
If yours is tilted, the nurse might ask you to cough as she pops the beak in.
Then there's a "retroverted" cervix – again it's normal, don't panic.
This just means it tilts back and so the nurse might ask you to pop your hands under your bum to give her a better angle.
Don't die because you're shy
It really is that simple, having a smear test could be the difference between life and death.
And take it from a stage 4 cancer patient if you have that choice, grab it and don't let go.
Do me a favour, I might not have the chance to avoid this b*stard disease anymore, but you do.
Put your fears to one side, take a deep breath and get your smear test done.
And then reward yourself with a giant glass of vino, safe in the knowledge you have done everything you possibly can to protect yourself.
Do it for me, for every stage 4 cancer patient out there, but most importantly do it for you.
You deserve a chance to enjoy a long and happy, cancer-free life.
I wish I still had that luxury.
You can help us spread the message by joining in on social.
We're asking women to share a photo with a pair of knickers and the hashtag #CheersForSmears tagging the women they love in their life, to remind them to get tested on time.
Cervical screenings save 5,000 lives every year – but let's make that number higher!
Please make sure to also tag @fabulousmag and the charity Jo's Trust (Twitter: @jotrust, Insta/FB: @joscervicalcancertrust)
My new book F*** You Cancer is available to buy now – and gives a brutally honest view of what cancer is really like – buy it here now
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