Why you should stop putting off your cervical screening test

The consequences of avoiding your cervical screening test could be fatal (Image Source: Very Well Family)

By Nikita Skuse | @nikita_skuse

A recent study by the Australia Cervical Cancer Foundation found that one-third of women in Australia put off their Cervical Screening Test (formerly known as the Pap Smear).

The Cervical Screening Test is designed to look for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the cervix, but studies have shown that many women are avoiding getting tested because they feel awkward or embarrassed.

The Cervical Screening Test should be undergone every five years for women over 25, but only around half of Australian women are getting tested regularly.

One in 10 women in the study said they avoided getting tested because they felt embarrassed about the appearance of their vagina.

However, this embarrassment could be putting women at risk.

HPV is an infection that can cause the cells in the cervix to change, which over time can lead to cervical cancer.

Eighty per cent of cervical cancer cases are found in women who have never had or are overdue for a Cervical Screening Test.

It usually takes 10 to 15 years for HPV to develop into cervical cancer, so by getting tested every five years you are reducing your risk dramatically.

Another reason women may be skipping their tests is the misbelief that because they have been vaccinated against HPV they are not at risk of cervical cancer, and therefore don’t need to be tested.

This is not the case.

The HPV vaccines were rolled out in 2007 and since then have been given to girls turning 15 each year, so if you are a female in your late twenties or younger you most likely received the vaccines as part of your high school vaccinations.

The National Cervical Screening Program states that although the vaccine is effective, it does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, so it is still important to get tested regularly, even if you’re vaccinated.

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Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation fact sheet (Image source: Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation)

I had to book my first Cervical Screening Test last month after experiencing unusual symptoms, and I dreaded every second of it.

The Cervical Screening Test age rose from 18 to 25 in 2017, and seeing as my friends are all very close to my age (21), none of them had had the test themselves yet so I had no one to interrogate about what I was going to experience.

The only knowledge I had was from searching through slightly traumatizing pictures on Google images of women’s legs spread wide with a large, duck-beak looking contraption shoved far up their lady bits.

It looked humiliating and painful.

However, I persevered and followed my doctor into the consulting room when she called my name.

To break down the test, essentially a plastic utensil called a speculum is inserted up the vagina to spread open the vaginal canal and a swab is taken of the cervix.

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Speculum and brush used for the Cervical Screening Test (Image Source: Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust)

It looks much scarier than it actually is.

It’s cold, and definitely uncomfortable, but not painful, and the swab is barely felt.

My doctor was gentle and sympathetic, apologising many times for having to do the test, knowing how awkward I felt.

I apologised more for the fact that she had to peer into crotches all day.

The whole ordeal was over in a matter of minutes and, although it wasn’t my favourite five minutes of my life, it was okay.

I think it’s safe to say that the discomfort, awkwardness or embarrassment that is felt during the test is by far more bearable than the possibility of developing cervical cancer because of missing out on early detection and intervention.

If you are 25 or older you can book a Cervical Screening Test by contacting your local GP or can book a free appointment with Shine SA if you are under 30.

If you are under 25 but experience any symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge or pain during sex also don’t hesitate to consult your GP about receiving a Cervical Screening Test.

From more information about the Cervical Screening Test visit the National Cervical Screening Program website.

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