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Reasons not to skip your next smear test

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

-  /  Sat, June 22, 2019  /  06:03 pm
Reasons not to skip your next smear test

Simply put, identifying abnormal cervical cells can allow doctors to catch cervical cancer in its early stages. (Shutterstock/Black Duck Style)

Even in a country like the UK, women are avoiding cervical screenings, with many citing nervousness or embarrassment. But what are the risks?

The Huffington Post reports a worrying statistic where one in four of 5 million women annually invited to a cervical screening -- also known as the smear test -- ended up not attending. 

According to a survey by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust in 2018, when asked why they avoid the test, many women cite feeling scared (71 percent) and vulnerable (75 percent). Meanwhile, 81 percent of women say they are embarrassed by the procedure. 

So why are these screenings so crucial? 

Simply put, identifying abnormal cervical cells can allow doctors to catch cervical cancer in its early stages. Cervical screenings are meant to identify patients who are at risk of cervical cancer by identifying abnormal cells in the cervix most likely caused by the contraction of human papillomavirus (HPV). 

These tests can be life-saving, so here’s a few facts that may convince you to schedule your next appointment.

You can still contract HPV with the HPV vaccine

Thirteen strains of HPV are known to be linked to cancer. However, since 2008, most vaccinations often only protect the most common “high-risk” stands of HPV, HPV16 and HPV1, which caused seven in 10 cases of cervical cancer. HPV vaccines don’t protect you from all strands of HPV, and cervical cancer can still develop. Which is why the smear test is still important.

Although the HPV vaccine is said to protect against HPV16 and HPV18, these vaccines are relatively new and Harley Street gynecologist DR Ahmed Ismail says it will take another 20 years until we can know for sure its effectiveness.

Read also: What to know about the cause, symptoms of cervical cancer

No one’s going to judge your genitals

Many women avoid cervical screenings due to embarrassment over the appearance of their genitalia. From the appearance of their vulvas to concerns over the smell, many women are not comfortable with the procedure. 

It’s important to remember, however, that these procedures are conducted by professional nurses whose jobs revolve around seeing other people’s genitals. The likelihood of them recalling a specific experience with one patient is rather low. 

Your partner’s sex doesn’t let you off the hook

There’s a myth among women in the LGBTQ+ community that their sexual orientation negates the need for smear tests; that sex with other women does not put them at risk of infection. Because of this, many skip having a smear test altogether, but is this actually true?

HPV is transmitted through skin contact, so even women in non-heterosexual relationships can contract HPV from other women during sex. In other words, they could still be at risk of HPV and could benefit from having a smear test.

Cervical cancer isn’t just from HPV

Most HPV infections are relatively harmless, with our immune systems being capable of expelling the threat from our bodies within two years without spawning abnormal cell growth that could lead to cervical cancer. If your smear test returns negative for abnormal cell growth, it’s best to schedule another smear test in another three years. 

This is due to certain rare forms of cervical cancer that develop without any signs of HPV. This means that abnormal cells can still grow regardless, even without having new sexual partners or being exposed to HPV. (ayr/kes)


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