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Cervical Cancer Prevention Week - SMEAR FIERCE!

Please my dear, book your smear and remind your peers

This week advocates across the globe have been raising awareness of Cervical Cancer for Cervical Cancer Prevention week which is all about the preventative measures for cervical cancers:

Check out the founders of this awareness week and their campaign here

Smear tests are a routine test where a speculum is entered into your vagina and then your cervix is scraped to gather cells. These cells are then tested for HPV. If any high risk cells come back, the person may be at risk of various cancers including gynaecological cancers. Surgery may be necessary to remove precancerous cells caused by high risk HPV. This is to prevent the cells from becoming cancerous. Learn more about the 5 gynae cancers and their symptoms here.

The smear test is quite outdated, given you can swab for the early signs of abnormal cells in your vagina without needing to insert a speculum. Swabbing is less invasive and can be done from home, there was a U.K trial which you can read about here.

YouScreen is a research study that will offer 31,000 women and people with a cervix in north and east London the opportunity to take a self-sample for cervical screening. London has the lowest rate of cervical screening in England. People who do not come regularly for cervical screening are more likely to develop cervical cancer. We hope that offering YouScreen self-sampling kits will make cervical screening easier and will encourage more people to be screened.

The YouScreen kit allows people to take their own sample for cervical screening using a vaginal swab (like a long cotton bud). It is free, easy to use and can be taken at a time and place that is convenient. You do not need to be examined or to have an appointment. Most people find it comfortable and pain free. The sample collected will be tested for human papillomavirus (HPV) at the laboratory. Ref

Whilst the UK continue to work on new ways to test for HPV, here's some advice for the current smear tests:

A short poem for embarrassment stopping you attend your smear (which is very common):

Have no fear about your smear

A beautiful bush or fully waxed,

The main thing is you feel relaxed

Your health is superior

Over the appearance of your labia minora

All vulvas are divine, and it

smells totally fine,

Bring a peer, but your best tunes in your ear

Breathe in, breathe out

You've got this my dear, there's no doubt.

You did it. You got your smear!

For the average person with a Vagina, smear tests can be a bit awkward, uncomfortable and something scraping the inside of your Vagina and the unnatural feeling on your internal organs doesn't exactly sound like the most comfortable thing in the world BUT a lot of people who have had a smear test have said they left feeling like it was not as bad as they thought it would be. So, if you an average person with a Vagina you might find that it will not be as painful as you think it will, but it will be totally different for everyone so your fear and anxieties are totally valid when it comes to the discomfort.

It is important to remember that the way you choose to have your pubic hair does not bother the nurses or doctors in the slightest, nor does the look of your genitals (be it a vulva or other genitals). They have seen thousands if not millions of genitals, and your body really is of no interest to them - your health, comfort and making sure you are HPV free, however, is of UPMOST importance and could save your life.

We did a post on Instagram to light-heartedly congratulate those fighting the fear and getting a smear.

The response was varied. Some people thought posts like this scare monger others, whereas others thought it downplayed their experience if they have other reasons to fear the smear from psychological trauma to physical pain or severe discomfort. Smear tests can feel like an impossible task for some, and we're all out here just shouting DON'T FEAR, when they're genuinely in need of proper care, support and to be heard.

Here's some advice for the many reasons having a smear test might be avoided:

I have Vaginismus or a vulval pain condition - here's a few things that might help you which we have put together from our community and friends with this condition:

  • Bring your own calming lube like CBD lube or water based Aloe Vera lube or you may want to use anaesthetic gel, such as lidocaine

  • Bring a small dilator and ask for some time to yourself before the smear test. You could also ask to insert the speculum yourself or get one to practice with at home.

  • Bring headphones and prepare beforehand what you could listen to to relax your mind, be it music meditation or your favourite show

  • Seek therapy beforehand tocontinue getting to the bottom of your vaginismus and practice breathing and relaxation or CBT techniques

  • You may want to use a clitoral toy or self pleasure before you get to your appointment, makes your vagina feel more relaxed.

There is also a great network for people with Vaginismus here.

I am a trans or non binary person with a cervix

This is a great resource for trans people with some real experiences.

I have suffered sexual trauma

Jo's cervical cancer trust has put together some great advice which includes prepping for the appointment:

  • Ask for an appointment with a nurse (sample taker) of your preferred gender.

  • Ask to be seen by a trusted doctor or nurse who you already have a good relationship with. While they may not already be fully aware of your situation, knowing that you chose them can help to make the appointment feel more comfortable. Be aware that they might not be qualified to do the test, but can be with you or talk to colleagues on your behalf.

  • Book an appointment just to talk about cervical screening and find out more about what happens. You do not have to have the test at this appointment.

  • If you are anxious about being alone with your nurse, or just want extra emotional support, take someone you trust to the appointment.

  • Ask for a longer or double appointment. This allows you a little extra breathing space before and after the test, so you can take the appointment at a pace that is more comfortable for you.

  • Plan what you are going to do after the appointment. You may not be able to carry on as normal immediately and need more time to ground yourself.

I am from an ethic background and I do not want a smear test

I have a learning difficulty or I am supporting someone with a learning difficulty

Health professionals should share this film with women and people with a cervix who have learning disabilities and their carers to help inform them about screening and the role in preventing cervical cancer.

Read more on making cervical screening more accessible here.

Whilst Va Va Womb are not medical professionals, we aim to break the stigma, spread resources and raise awareness as much as we can.

We recommend contacting Jo's Cervical Cancer trust or The Eve Appeal for more information.

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