By Zabian Fifield
At the end of last year, NHS England pledged to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040. However, in countries likes Sweden and Australia this is expected to happen by up to a decade earlier. UK charities such as Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust are determined to achieve a speedier target for UK women.
However, with 9 women a day being diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK and 2 women a day in the UK losing their life to the disease, more can still be done. Programmes lack funding, resources and staffing, while inequalities in cancer prevention need to be tackled.
The good news is that the current UK HPV vaccination programme has already resulted in an 87% decrease in cervical cancer incidence in women in their 20s. More and more women are also being invited for cervical screening – over 5 million 25-64-year-olds were invited in 2022 with 3.5 million tested – while self-sampling is being trialled.
In the meantime, you can help yourself by ensuring you attend all your screening appointments. If you are feeling anxious about this, the following tips might help:
- Ask for a smaller speculum – They come in different sizes so you can ask for a smaller one or put the speculum in yourself.
- Ask for a specific nurse/doctor – You may feel more comfortable with a nurse/doctor you know or of a particular gender.
- Ask for the first appointment of the day – If you feel uncomfortable in waiting rooms, you may want to ask for the first appointment of the day, so it is quieter and there is less time to wait.
- Ask to be referred to colposcopy – Adjustable beds can make it easier to access the cervix.
- Ask to book a longer/double appointment – Having more time before, during or after the screening can help you process all the information.
- Lie in a different position – Lying on your back may be uncomfortable, so you may want to lie on your left-hand size with your knees bent instead.
- Take a trusted chaperone – You can take a friend, family member or partner to wait in the waiting room with you or accompany you in the examination room to offer support.
- Talk to your nurse or doctor – If it is your first cervical screening, you feel embarrassed/worried, you have had a previous bad experience or you have experienced anything that makes the test hard for you, tell the person doing the test so they can give you the right support. Alternatively, you can write it down.
- Use post-menopausal prescription – A vaginal oestrogen cream or pessary can help with discomfort for those going through the menopause.
- Visit a specialist cervical screening clinic – Some people prefer to go to a clinic that meets their needs.
- Wear a skirt or dress – It may help you feel more covered to wear a skirt or dress. You can keep it on during your test and only take off your underwear.