Writing by Haylee Penfold // Clay Banks
National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week starts November 8 and this year’s campaign message is It’s Time to Catch Up. Cervical Cancer is the most preventable cancer with early detection. With the recent pandemic, most of Australia went months without seeing a doctor face to face and therefore a lot of women (and other vulva owners) missed their regular cervical screenings. If COVID affected your screening schedule take this as a message to book in, just one test every five years could save your life.
Cervical Screening practices have changed in recent years, what was previously known as the Pap Test (or a pap smear) was replaced in 2017 with cervical screenings. What makes cervical screenings different is with new technology these screenings are able to earlier detect the cell changes within the cervix and are aimed to protect more than 30% more of women against cancer. While the Pap Test was requested to be repeated every two years, cervical screenings are to be repeated every five. However, if you are experiencing any abnormal symptoms like pain or bleeding you should be consulting your doctor as soon as possible.
Getting a cervical screening can be uncomfortable for a lot of reasons. It is OK to request a female GP if that makes you feel more comfortable – this is absolutely within your rights as a patient. You can also request a step by step conversation of what the screening involves before it is conducted. At any time if you feel pain or you want the screening to stop you can say so and the practitioner will stop immediately. The Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF) has made a screening comfort list to help you better prepare for a screening and can be be found here.
What a lot of women aren’t aware of is there is a resource available for GPs who specialise in doing cervical screenings for women who have experienced sexual assault. It was common among victims to skip their screenings due to the triggering circumstances these citations can hold. You may find under these circumstances you may be eligible for a self collection screening where the practitioner will give you a guide on how to insert the swab yourself in a more private setting. Talk to your doctor on how you feel about cervical screenings and what the best approach is for you and your situation.