Cervical cancer affects around 3,000 women in the UK every year, and is the most common form of cancer for women under the age of 35.
Attending a cervical screening – known as a smear test - is the best way to help prevent cervical cancer. Yet nationally, and also in Liverpool, there has been a decline in people attending over the last few years.
The latest published figures reveal that cervical screening coverage in women aged 25-64 years in Liverpool was just 67.3% – which is 4% lower than England average of 72%. This equates to over 43,000 women in Liverpool being overdue or failing to attend a smear test at any given time – more than the number of people who can fit into Everton FC’s stadium.
Debbie Woods, a Nurse Clinician at Fulwood Green Medical Centre in Aigburth is backing the campaign. She explains:
“I’m joining the campaign this March to encourage women aged between 24 and a half to 64 to book in for their smear when they get a letter from their GP inviting them to make an appointment. It’s such a quick and simple test, and it really does save lives. 83% of all deaths from cervical cancer could be prevented if all eligible women attended this screening – so please don’t ignore that letter.”
The NHS offers a screening for all women, starting around their 25th birthday and up to the age of 49 every three years, and all women aged 50 to 64 every five years.
You will receive an invitation by letter from your GP practice when you are due for a cervical screening. However, the CCG is urging women to contact their GP if you are over the age of 25 and have not been screened before, or if you think you may be overdue for an appointment. Your GP practice team can check for you.
One of Debbie’s patients who recently attended her first cervical screening (smear test) is Demi Longworth, aged 24 and a half, from South Liverpool. Hearing about a friend who was sent for further tests after some abnormal cells were found through her smear test, encouraged Demi to make an appointment for herself too, despite initially ignoring her invite letter.
Demi explains, “I did intend to go for a smear test eventually, but it just wasn’t near the top of my priorities until I heard about my friend. She kept telling me that without the smear test she wouldn’t have known that anything was wrong, and that was the push I needed to stop putting it off.”
She continues, “Before the appointment I felt quite nervous because I had never had a smear before and I didn’t know what to expect. But the nurse helped to put me at ease by explaining everything first and it wasn’t nearly as daunting as I expected it to be.
“Part of the problem is that people don’t really talk about it enough – but they should do, because it might encourage more people to go. That’s why I’m supporting the ‘Cervical screenings saves lives’ campaign this March and encouraging everyone to go for their smear - it’s quick and easy to do, and it really could save your life.”
Nurse Clinician, Debbie Woods adds, “I know it can be easy to forget to make an appointment when life is busy, but I think of the smear test as a small but important investment in yourself. The test itself only takes about 5 minutes do, but it’s effects can last for years as it can help prevent cancer, so it really is worth taking the time to prioritise.”
She adds, “We understand that some women can feel a bit nervous or embarrassed about attending a smear because it’s an intimate test, but as practice nurses we do lots of smear tests every week so we are very experienced, and will do everything we can to help you feel comfortable and to put you at ease.”
Below are six top tips on preparing for a smear test:
You can also watch this short film with advice from a local nurse.
Where can I go for help?
To make an appointment for a cervical screening now, please contact your local GP practice.
For more information on cervical cancer and what happens during a smear test, visit: www.nhs.uk/cervicalcancer