By Katy Harris, ISJ Student Intern.
Let’s talk about the C word.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month, a national campaign run to draw attention to one of the dominant forms of cancer amongst women and increase understanding of how to prevent it. One way in which we can do so, is to stop the fears that surround cervical – or smear – testing.
Here at YSJ, we are campaigning to end the fear for smear. As part of this I reached out to female students and staff around the university to join #Smear4Smear, hoping to empower more women and girls to join the campaign. The campaign asks participants to contribute photographs of smeared lipstick as a physical statement to render our stand against the fear of cervical smears. The banner above is a representation of our efforts to come together and raise awareness. It is my hope that those that participated and those that are reading this, will carry the campaign further; telling their friends, their family and inspire women beyond the university walls.
Here are a few reasons why YSJ students felt the need to get involved:
“I wanted to join the #SmearforSmear campaign as I think it is important to raise awareness amongst young people as it may not be something they want to talk about, but spreading awareness reduces the stigma around women’s intimate health and encourages people to go for their smear tests”
“A girl that I know recently had her first smear at 25 and cancerous cells were found in her results. By catching it early, it potentially saved her life”
“If women work together to normalise getting a smear test then hopefully, we can reduce the tragedies which some women encounter”
Join us in the #SmearforSmear
There are around 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer every year in the UK. To put this into perspective, in 2018 an estimated 570,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and around 311,000 women died from the disease in the same year. Cervical screening saves lives, but recent years have seen the number of annual smears decrease. This is worrying. Kiri Tunks, trade unionist and founder of Women’s Place UK, declared that ‘the truth is that many women and girls are in ignorance of their bodies – not helped by a failure of this country to make sex and relationships education statutory’.
Sex and Relationships Education was only made compulsory in schools in 2000 meaning that those being taught before the millennial year, were uneducated about their very own bodies. Even now many women are coming out of school not equipped to understand how to protect their general health – going completely against the aim of social justice and maintenance of our human rights.
It’s time to get educated…
Regular cervical screening is the best way to identify abnormalities of your cervix and prevent cervical cancer. The legal earliest point of detection is at the age of 25 where you are invited for your first smear test. Statistics from Cancer Research show that the number of diagnoses, soars dramatically when attaining the age of 25, some of these could be caught even earlier. During 2017-2019 a petition was submitted to the Conservative Government to lower the age limit to 18. This petition ran for 6 months and achieved 205,359 signatures yet the demand was turned down by the government.
Other methods of prevention are ensuring that you have had your HPV vaccine, usually given to you in school between the age of 12 and 13. Avoid smoking and also ensure that you have safer sex. The GP on campus can provide you with information, resources and additional help to safeguard you against unsafe sex.
If you have an abnormal cervical screening test result or any other symptoms, then you will be referred to a colposcopy which is an examination to look at the abnormalities of your cervix. The appointment usually lasts for 20 minutes, with the procedure only lasting approximately 3 minutes. A nurse will then take a speculum, used to open up your cervix and inset a small lit microscope to have a peak. Unfortunately, many women are unaware of the importance of smear testing or some are perhaps frightened, nervous or embarrassed.
Our contribution to the #SmearforSmear campaign is one small step towards changing this.