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Women Who Don't Have Smear Tests: Mind-Boggling, Stupid and Dangerous

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When I read the news that a quarter of women don't have smear tests or put them off because they think they might be painful and/or are embarrassed by it, I thought: "Oh God, not this again."

Accompanying a lot of the news stories around this was a picture of Jade Goody, who died from cervical cancer because she allegedly skipped her smear tests for nine months, which, had she attended, may have revealed the cancerous cells a lot earlier.

After her death, there was a massive push for women to understand why smear tests were important (they show abnormal cell changes which may be pre-cursors to cervical cancer and is then regularly monitored), but it seems we're falling back into old habits.

I remember the first argument I ever had with a close friend of mine. We were in the airport, and she told me sotto voce that she'd never had a smear test and I - rather insensitively yelled for everyone to hear - "WHAT! You've never had a smear test!"

She didn't appreciate me broadcasting her business and I was gobsmacked that she'd taken such a laissez-faire approach to something so important.

When did smear tests become something optional? Something we'd try and squeeze in if we had time?

Or do more women need to die from cervical cancer before we get the message?

It beggars belief that smear tests - which can help spotlight at-risk women and help prevent cervical cancer - are seen as something that isn't absolutely necessary.

Perhaps it's because we have the NHS, and that complacency at having a free health service makes us feel like we can cherry pick what we like. Because perhaps, if we lived in a country where we had to pay for it, and this was offered as a free service, we'd appreciate it a bit more.

Or perhaps it's because for the majority of women who have never been ill - and I mean an illness that really puts you in touch with your mortality and makes you appreciate just being alive at all - it's something nebulous and far removed.

Because if the idea of a smear test is 'painful', then presumably you have no intention of housing a penis in there. That's not to suggest the two things are the same (otherwise there'd be no need for this article - the NHS would be inundated) but it's a similar principle.

And as for embarrassed, well, if you ever have any aspirations of shooting a baby out of there, this is definitely a feather's tickle on the gynaecological scale.

If your smear test is found to be abnormal, you get referred to a colposcopy unit which sounds a lot scarier than it is. You are then scheduled for either six months or nine-month appointments, during which you have a smear test and at the same time, they examine your cervix.

It's all pretty painless, and from my personal experience with it, the nurses and doctors are friendly, supportive and continuously reassure you that it's a preventative measure. Trust me, it'd be a lot worse not knowing.

I realise a lot of us suffer from 'It'll never happen to me" syndrome. But you know what, those 3,000 women who've been diagnosed with cervical cancer - I bet they didn't think they would either.

Around the Web

Cervical screening - NHS Choices

Pap Smear Test Guidelines, Frequency, and Results - MedicineNet

Cervical Screening Test | Health | Patient.co.uk

Pap smear: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

Having a cervical smear test - National Screening Unit

Women over 50 who skip smear tests more likely to get cancer

A quarter of young women are 'embarrassed' to have cervical cancer smear tests

Women encouraged to avail of free smear tests in 2014

Fear of smear tests puts lives at risk

Skipping smear test ' risks cancer', warn researchers

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