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Why Do 50% of Women Risk Cervical Cancer?

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Tuesdays are normally a pretty banal day for me. I drop the kids at their respective childcare, do a bit of vacuuming and try and get on with some work. But not this Tuesday, oh no. This week I had the absolute privilege of accompanying Hannah Lawton, one half of the Inspirational Friends Atlantic Rowing Team, to ITV's This Morning, where she had her first ever cervical smear live on TV.

Yup, you read it right. LIVE ON TV.

'Er, why?' I hear you gasp. Simple really. It's Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, and more than anything else right now, Hannah wants to stop women dying of this disease. You see, at the tender age of 23, Hannah has already been touched by death. Her good friend and fellow rower, Elle Ellis, was diagnosed with cervical cancer aged 21, shortly after graduating from the University of the West of England, Bristol. She had her whole life ahead of her, so many plans, a bright future. But it was all taken away by the bogey-man so many of us fear - on May 12th 2012, aged just 23, Elle lost her fight with cancer.

Inspired by Elle's positive approach not just to life, but to her own death, Hannah and rowing friend Jessie VanBeck decided to enter the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge - a gruelling 3000 mile row that has been completed by less people than have been into space - in order to raise awareness of the symptoms of cervical cancer, and raise money for charity, all in Elle Ellis' memory.

When Inspirational Friends first approached me last year for help with their media campaign, I said I could probably write a few press releases. A busy mum of two, trying to fit a bit of paying journalism work in between naps and nappy changes, I wasn't sure I had the time to volunteer myself to this cause, worthy as it sounded. But when I began talking to them - about Elle, about cervical cancer, about the danger women deliberately put themselves in, I knew I had to get involved.

A staggering 20% of women over 25 who are eligible for regular cervical smears on the NHS, do not go. Really? They just don't bother? Many don't like the idea of dropping their knickers in front of the nurse. Plenty have had a bad experience with a cold speculum and rough hands, but we easily forget that a few moments of discomfort - usually minimal - can save our lives. Some women, particularly post menopausal women and those over 50, think they are old enough not to need a smear. Ladies, please, you are never too old to die from cancer. And that statement also applies to the 50% of women who are ignoring cervical cancer symptoms according to a YouGov survey.

What really blew me away is that 50% of girls eligible for the HPV vaccine don't elect to have it. Half of young women - half of our daughters - are willingly putting themselves at greater risk, because they don't like jabs.

Time to get a grip, people.

Cervical cancer is real. It's a dangerous disease. Each year 3000 new cases are diagnosed in the UK, and each year 1000 women lose their battle against it. That's 33% of women dying from something that is preventable - if you have a regular smear, abnormal cells can be identified and treated easily. If you don't go, then you give potential abnormal cells the chance to grow into something more sinister, something that involves invasive treatment; something that, ultimately, could take away your life.

As one friend put it, 'women are dying each year - from embarrassment'.

So please, go and book a smear. And when you've done that, visit www.insfriends.org.uk to see how you can support this fantastic cause. Let's make sure that at least one young woman's death has not been in vain.

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