As we reach the 10 year anniversary of Jade Goody’s tragic death from cervical cancer, the number of women attending their cervical screening appointments has fallen to a 20 year low in England and a 10 year low in Wales. In Wales last year, out of the women aged 25-49 years old, almost 30% had not had a smear test within the recommended time of 3 years. Public Health England and Wales have launched campaigns this month (#cervicalscreeningsaveslives and #loveyourcervix) to help raise awareness and attendance of smear tests. Although they are hard to talk about, I wanted to take the opportunity to briefly talk about smears in my blog, in particular from a post natal perspective.
I think that it’s safe to say that us women don’t particularly look forward to having our smear test done at any time in our life, and even more so if its so soon after having a baby. Although people may say that having a smear is ‘nothing compared to giving birth’, at the end of the day, after you’ve pushed a baby through your cervix, you just want it to be left alone! I was due for a smear test when I was pregnant with Evelyn, but as routine smears are postponed until 3 months after giving birth, mine was delayed until then (this online leaflet is a good comprehensive guide for smears and pregnancy). I had to take Evelyn with me to my smear which proved challenging as she was still breastfeeding very frequently, in fact I was in the middle of breastfeeding when I got called to go in. Fortunately though, the health care assistant was more than happy to cuddle a hungry Evelyn whilst I had the smear done.
Having a smear test can be daunting at any time, let alone finding the time as a new mum, but I’m so glad that I did go as unfortunately my smear was abnormal. It was a very upsetting time for me, though would have been 100 times worse if it had developed into cervical cancer. Fortunately the abnormalities were picked up early and were able to be managed easily with treatment. Going through this whole experience would have been emotionally tough at any time in my life but it was particularly hard being so soon after having a baby and the unique challenges that motherhood brings. Following Evelyn I have been much more aware of my own health. Although it’s easy to put your own health aside when you are a new mum focusing on your new baby, if anything the opposite couldn’t be more important. We need to look after ourselves as we have to look after a new little person who completely depends on us and whom we are completely responsible for.
The Jo’s trust website is a great source of information and support which I highly recommend visiting. However I thought that I’d mention that in Wales, since September 2018, we have changed to ‘HPV Primary Testing’. This means that the cervical sample is tested for high risk HPV first and if it is present, the sample will then be checked for cell abnormalities. If these abnormalities are not monitored or treated they may develop into cervical cancer. Previously, and still for the rest of the UK, the cells are checked first and then for HPV. However the plan is for the rest of the UK to adopt the same process as Wales as it has been found to be a better way of screening. Unfortunately, there are still myths and stigma around HPV which can result in women feeling confused, embarrassed or shame for being found to have it. However HPV is a very common virus with around 80% of people getting it at some point in their lives. Most people easily get rid of it, but sometimes the immune system may not be able to clear it. With the availability of the HPV vaccine, the incidence of HPV should hopefully decrease in the future.