Get checked – it may save your life2 min readReading Time: 2 minutes
In April, Labour MP, Kiri Allan, revealed that she had been diagnosed with Stage 3 cervical cancer. In a frank and emotional Facebook post, she explained she had neglected to go for a smear test for several years.
“To be honest, I’m one of those gals that hates anything to do with ‘down there’, she said.
She had back, stomach and leg pain, but put it down to hard work and stress. Then she was finding it hard to sit, and was constantly bleeding. “In hindsight, there were lots of opportunities to go touch base with a doctor. But I didn’t. I put it down to work, and was on the go, and that stuff usually sorts itself out,’” she said.
All women between 25 and 69 who have ever been sexually active should have regular three-yearly smear tests. Up to 90% of cervical cancers can be prevented with regular cervical screening.
What causes cervical cancer?
It’s caused by human papillomaviruses (HPV) – a group of really common viruses which affect up to 99% of men and women. Highly contagious, it’s passed on via intimate contact – skin to skin, kissing, foreplay and sexual intercourse. While the body usually clears the virus, it can stay in the system, and if not detected and treated, goes on to cause cancers, including cervical, penile, anus and mouth and throat cancers. It can sometimes take 20 years or longer from infection to the development of cancer.
Symptoms may include blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods; longer and heavier periods than usual; bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination; increased vaginal discharge; and unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain.
The smear test takes around 10 minutes. Cells are taken from your cervix by a trained professional and tested – if they have changed, the ‘abnormal’ cells are then checked to see if the virus is present. If caught early enough, treatment is as simple as removing the affected tissue, and has a really high success rate. If you have a smear test every three years, any changes on the cervix can be detected and treated before they become cancers.
Although the HPV vaccine can significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer, it does not guarantee it. You should still attend cervical screening tests, even if you’ve had the vaccine. Don’t wait for the free self-screening test kits, as these won’t be available until 2023.
The Well Woman & Family Trust has 30 community and mobile clinics around Auckland every month and are given to women, by women. Treatment and screening is high quality, free or low-cost, culturally appropriate, respectful and informed. Or you can go to your GP.