Girls are doing it for themselves

This is a topic that I am passionate about but I am really in two minds about this item that was on the news this morning.

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have developed a home smear DIY kit for cervical cancer tests. The kit allows women to take a vaginal swab or urine sample at home and send it into a lab, where it will be tested for chemical changes. The NHS aims to get around 80% of women tested, but last year only 70% of people attended their cervical cancer smear tests last year.

If successful the kits will be available in three years time.

I have been very passionate over the years

You may or may not be aware that in early 2001 I was diagnosed with stage III cervical cancer. I was very conscientious about always having a smear/pap test whenever I was called for it. In those days in UK that would be every 5 years. It was also routine to have a smear test during a 6 week post natal check up. My youngest son was born in December 1995. I had my post natal examination in January 1996. I was then due for my next test in January 2001. In April 2000 I began to have bladder leakage. I was reluctant to go to the doctor about this. After several months of this (I blame Tena Lady adverts for the idea that it is normal for women to develope leakage). Finally in late 2000 I had an appointment with our doctor who referred me to see a Urologist at our local hospital.

I had my appointment but was told that he couldn’t examine me properly as there was a blockage. A week later I saw a Gynaecologist who also attempted to examine me. He attempted to perform a smear test. This didn’t work as I was bleeding to much. Next I attended day surgery for a biopsy. Weeks later (9th March 2001) I never forget that date. I was given the news that I had a tumour the size of an orange. I later discovered that it was 7cm x 8cm x7cm. I was too large to be removed by surgery.

The next few weeks were take up with a variety of tests and measurements and 3 tattoo dots on my back ( for radiotherapy purposes). The treatment I received over the following months did the trick. The tumour dissolved and in September 2001 I was given the all clear. The treatment I received saved my life. I am very grateful that I went through it but it is not something I would want anyone to go through if it could be avoided. I know without a doubt that if I didn’t have treatment when I did I wouldn’t have made it to the end of 2001. For me now every day, month and year are a bonus.

If at that time smear tests had been performed more frequently, it’s probable that my cancer would have been picked up sooner and treatment less invasive.

Over the years I have come across or heard of women who don’t go for their smear test. It’s free! It takes a couple of minutes. It’s a life saver. It’s a no brainer. I get very cross when women say they don’t go, it might be a question of dignity or vanity. It might be because they are scared. It could be the thought that it was uncomfortable or even hurt. Let me tell you that whichever the reason, its a darn sight worse to go through the treatment for cancer.

Back to the news segment this morning. It is being proposed that it in a few years time if trials are successful women will be able to do the tests themselves. On the one hand if this will encourage more women to go through the process that has to be a good thing. On the other hand are these kits going to be fool proof. I know that nurses and doctors are not always 100% able to get the right samples. Yes I do understand that these kits are to be more about getting a swab rather than gathering cells but is it going to be accurate enough and not give a false sense of security.

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