Cervical Cancer Awareness - let's talk gynae health!
Did you know that last week was Cervical Cancer Prevention week? And that January is cervical health awareness month?
No?! Don't tell me you've been so focused on Brexit and Coronavirus that you forgot about cancer?? AGAIN?
I kid. I mean, I am late in writing this post. But talking about our gynaecological health is super important, and I am all for preventing cancer. So here I am.
Cervical cancer is one of those cancers that in many cases is preventable. 99.8% of cases are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), for which we now have a vaccine, and it is a cancer for which we have an effective screening process. Unfortunately, this last year 28% of people invited for their cervical screening test (smear/pap) did not go. 1 in 3 were put off by covid concerns. This can only mean that so many preventable cases of cervical cancers will have been missed. If abnormal pre-cancer cells are found through a smear test - although scary - it means something can be done to remove them and prevent them turning into cancer! How great is that? Why isn't that enough motivation for people to get their test? Unfortunately, there is a lot of fear and stigma surrounding getting a smear test; I mean, it is understandable that people are nervous about getting their bits out in front of a stranger, and what's more people are scared it'll hurt. These are rational fears, however organisations like Eve Appeal, and Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, are working to dispel many of the myths about getting a smear.
In the UK, people are invited for their first smear test when they turn 25. Apparently the risk of cervical cancer on under 24s is very low, but some argue that the screening age should be lower. This is a debate with complicated layers, as often, abnormal cells in a young person can sort themselves out on their own, it is very normal to have some abnormalities at a young age (Jo's Trust). After your first smear test, you will be invited for regular smears until the age of 64. It is important you go every single time. No matter how rare cervical cancer may be in the under 25 group, it is important for everyone with a cervix to understand the symptoms.
Unpleasant smelling discharge,
Bleeding after sex,
Bleeding outside of your period,
Pain during penetrative sex.
If you experience any of these symptoms, what should you do? See your doctor of course! Straight away! Don't try and logic your way around your symptoms, just get checked out. Chances are you'll be alright, but if you're not, the earlier you find out, the better.
I'm Nervous About my Smear Test - where can I find more information?
Please don't decide not to go based on fears and misinformation. Make an informed decision. Check out Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust's website, which is full of all the info you could need. Also do speak to your GP/nurse about any fears you have. The nurse doing the screening will also be able to answer any questions, so be open, and if you're feeling any pain you are entitled to let them know!
Does Cervical Screening Pick Up All Gynaecological Cancers?
Did you know there are 5 gynaecological cancers? Womb, ovarian, cervical, vulval and vaginal. Did you even know there were that many parts down there? The female reproductive system is one busy place, and even though they do technically teach it at school, so many people still can't tell you what each of the bits of their own body are.
Unfortunately, cervical screening can only detect HPV and cervical cancer. So, for each of the others it is a case of listening to your body and recognising any unusual symptoms.
Looking After Our Gynaecological Health
I feel like we all know and are taught how to look after ourselves in terms of - Eat Healthy! Exercise! Shower! But, what about looking after your genitalia? A bit of a taboo topic, right?
Did you know that the cervix creates its own mucus that protects the cervix, womb, ovaries and fallopian tubes from bacteria entering and causing infections? This is why it is so important not to wash your vulva/vagina with any scented soaps or shampoos or anything other than water. This really is a case of trusting your body and letting it do what it does naturally. Bad smell? Don't wash it with soap or perfume! Your body is probably trying to tell you something, if you try and treat it yourself you will probably make it worse. It could be due to your menstrual cycle, or an infection, or many other things, so don't panic. But if it is unusual for you - do see your GP!
So, the main message here is, if you are going to use anything down there, make sure it is specifically designed for that purpose (like lube - go for it!).
The HPV Vaccine
I was lucky enough to be given the HPV vaccine when I was at school, and even though I wasn't completely sure what it did I was more than happy to take it. Well, a lower risk of cancer can never be a bad thing, right?
In 2019, the HPV vaccine was also made available to school-age boys as well as girls, which is great news as HPV does not only cause cervical cancer, and can be contracted by anyone. HPV can also cause anal, and head and neck cancer, so it is important that everyone is able to receive the vaccine.
The HPV vaccine protects against 70% of cases (which is great), but that means it is still vitally important to go for your cervical screening test all the same!
With all the anti-vax chat going on at the moment, it is evermore important to keep informed and encourage the use of vaccines - that have gone through rigorous safety tests, and would not be approved for mass use if they were not safe. With any type of 'medicine', there will always be a risk of side effects, but those are usually very short lived and outweigh the benefits.
On which note, I am very very happy to announce that I have had my first Covid vaccine! I was given the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, which means AstraZeneca are now saving my life in more ways than one as they provide my cediranib! I had no hesitations about getting the vaccine. For me, any potential risks are completely worth the benefit that is not dying or getting seriously ill from Covid-19. I understand reservations, and if you are able to receive the vaccine but are worried, please please do your research from trusted sources. Do not get your information from Facebook. Do check out the ingredients of the vaccine, if that reassures you. Be as thorough as you need to be.
Lord, if I told you the risks of cediranib you'd tell me to GET OFF IT, ASAP. Chemotherapy/cancer drugs are bloody lethal. But, they can save your life. Sometimes in life, you need to make a judgement call.
If you are worried and want to ask me how my vaccination went, please do, I'm always here. However, I would really recommend the World Health Organisation's website that has loads of easy-to-understand information backed up with fact.
I hope this blog taught you something about Cervical Health, and if you do have any facts or experiences of your own, I'd love to open up this conversation more so it's not so much of a taboo.
Have a lovely weekend everybody, and look after your bits!
Until next time,