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Don’t Fear the Smear!

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

By Gemma Keogh

Charter Medical strive to provide the best possible care to our patients. This piece on cervical screening and smear tests will be the first of many in a series of health promotion and information blogs. The aim of these posts will be to provide evidence based information ( in a reader friendly way) in order for you to be fully informed on relevant health topics and also to encourage you to keep up to date on looking after yourself. I will also share some of my own experiences both as a nurse and as a patient!This will hopefully encourage you to have conversations about health between you and your friends and family.

Some Facts:

  • There is an average of 300 cases of Cervical Cancer each year in Ireland.
  • In 2010, 88 women died of Cervical Cancer
  • Cervical cells change slowly and take many years to develop into cancer cells, this makes cervical cancer a preventable disease.
  • In 2014/2015 there were 8,717 women that had biopsies (samples of their cells tested for disease) taken for smear tests that had cell changes.
  • 151 of these women had cancer (1.8%)
  • 6,832 of these women had “early cell changes” or “pre-cancerous” cells that were treatable (78.4%)
  • This shows that cell changes are common – and are treatable. Smear tests pick up these cells while they are treatable. Without your smear test check those cells could develop into something more serious such as cancer.
  • Smear tests can save your life.

I recall when I got my “invitation letter” for my “smear test”. I was 25 and working as a nurse. Firstly, being a nurse didn’t spare my ignorance on this topic as all I knew was that it was a test I had to go for when I turned 25. I also knew that it was a screening test for cervical cancer and this was as far as my knowledge went. I read the information leaflet that came with my invite letter and put it to one side. It wasn’t until I got my “final reminder” letter that I actually contacted my GP practice to make an appointment. I was close to if not already 26. Why did I put it off? Two reasons: 1. I thought that I had to have it done in my local GP practice, which was in Kilkenny and I worked in Dublin. This meant I actually rescheduled the smear test three times before actually having it done. 2. Honestly, I didn’t realise that it was so important.

Also, it is a free service! There was no reason not to hurry a long and get it done. The thoughts of the test itself didn’t actually put me off but I put this down to medical “things” never really bothering me, injections as a child dentist visits etc. However, it is an intimate procedure and I can definitely see how it would put most people off “getting it done”.

For those of you that don’t know, a smear test (pap test) or cervical screening test is an examination of a woman’s cervix (area at the entrance to the womb) where a sample of cells are taken (using a very soft brush – see pictures!) and placed in a pot of liquid fluid and sent to the lab to be tested/checked. We are checking for “abnormal” “irregular” or “not normal” cells, these are very common and when picked up early can be monitored/treated if necessary. This test is done by inserting a plastic instrument called a speculum (I know the terminology is encouraging in itself!) into the vagina in order to check out the cervix.

The test is quick, it only takes a few minutes and is not meant to be painful. Sometimes it can take a bit longer and this is because the cervix is quite mobile and can sometimes move around (this is normal).Some people experience a little bit of discomfort and this is usually if there a vaginal infection such as thrush going on at the time. It is ok to stop a smear test if you do feel uncomfortable and it can be done on a different day when the infection has been treated and cleared.

 

See its not so scary!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I did present for my smear test, I couldn’t believe it when the nurse said “that’s it now you can get dressed”. It was over so quickly and all I felt was a bit of pressure, no pain and it wasn’t embarrassing. I had a “pleasant” smear test experience, however I can appreciate that not all women have a good experience and sometimes a bad experience can put you off returning for your next test. Please be reassured that the service is constantly changing and improving and the cervical check programme have implemented training programmes in order to improve the experience for all women.

It wasn’t until I completed my Smear taker training over a year ago that I realised the importance of having regular smear tests and how effective the cervical check national screening programme is. I now understand why I shouldn’t have delayed my smear test and why I have to go back for more!

I am going to go through some relevant information points and some facts about the Cervical Check’s cervical screening programme and smear tests below. The cervical check website (www.cervicalcheck.ie) has all the information you may need in relation to cervical screening and smear tests in Ireland and all their research is based on international best practice and research combined with their own research since the programme began.

Check out when your next smear test is due by clicking this link : Check your eligibility now!

Charter Medical now offers online booking for smear tests: Book your smear with Charter Medical online now

If you cannot see a time that suits, please call us on 016579044

 

We also offer a swab to check for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea which is included in your free smear.

Remember, don’t fear the smear – book yours today, don’t delay. It could save your life!

Don’t hesitate in booking your next smear test today! If you are 25 or over and have never had a smear test in Ireland and you have a PPS number: don’t delay, you are entitled to a free smear test and can make an appointment straight away. You don’t need to wait for a letter from cervical check.

Basic Information
Cervical Check is the national cervical screening programme in Ireland. It offers FREE screening (smear tests) to all women aged between 25-60 living in Ireland. (Note, you must have a PPS Number to avail of the test)

  • You must attend for a smear test every 3 years from aged 25-44 and every 5 years from aged 45-60. These are the current guidelines, these may change in the future due to ongoing research
  • The cells in the cervix are constantly changing throughout our lives, the aim of cervical screening is to pick up on these cell changes early so that they can be monitored or treated and not develop into anything serious.
  • The cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil (read more on HPV.ie) also offers protection against the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer but it is still important to have regular smear tests even if you have had this vaccine.The ideal time to have your smear test is in the middle of your menstrual cycle, however once you are not bleeding on the day of the test then it can be done
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses – there are more than 100 different types. Some types of HPV can cause cell changes in the cervix.
  • Most women who have HPV do not develop cervical cancer. If you have an ABNORMAL smear, the lab will check to see if you have HPV.
  • HPV is very common and most of the time our bodies clear it itself. It is difficult to prevent the spread of HPV (usually spread by skin to skin contact during sexual activity).
  • Smoking makes it harder for the body to clear HPV so if you smoke, stop.
  • The HPV vaccine can protect against the common types of HPV that cause cell changes in the cervix. See www.hpv.ie for more information
  • Regular smear tests means that any cell changes are found as early as possible and are easier to treat!
  • Based on research and evidence to date, there is no public health benefit to doing smear tests on women under the age of 25 – this is because screening under 25 may lead to women receiving unnecessary treatment for lesions that would never have developed into invasive cancer.  However, it is important for all women of any age to present to their GP for investigation if they are having any irregular bleeding, bleeding after sex, bleeding between periods or any lower stomach or pelvic pain that is unexplained.
  • You don’t have to have your smear test done by your own GP/nurse, you can have it done anywhere that there is a registered smear taker.

See www.cervicalcheck.ie for a list of places to have your screening done.