Simple test can make all the difference

From broken bones to new beginnings

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It’s a free test that can quickly and easily detect if a woman is susceptible to developing cervical cancer.

Yet hundreds of women in the Portsmouth area fail to go for their routine check up – more commonly known as a smear test.

And it’s something Lauren De Vries is familiar with.

She was diagnosed with cervical cancer last year – aged only 26.

Lauren, of Cottage Close, Denmead, had put her test off for a year.

She says: ‘I went for a regular smear test in June last year, after I had just turned 26 – but I had put it off for a year.

‘I didn’t really think much of the test and thought I could have it done another time.

‘I split up with a long-term partner and decided I should have a check up, and with that had a smear test.

‘I didn’t think anything of it, but then received a letter saying I had high abnormalities.’

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week runs until January 25, and women are being encouraged to get tested.

Lauren shares her story in a bid to make women realise the importance of the test.

She was sent to the colposcopy department in Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham where they investigated further and did a procedure where they took the potentially cancerous cells away.

‘The doctor at the time explained I would probably need to see my GP for regular smear tests every six months to keep an eye on things,’ adds Lauren, a part-time retail worker.

‘But I received a letter two weeks later to say I needed to go back to QA for a consultation.

‘When I went to my appointment they had diagnosed me with stage one cervical cancer.

‘It was the best news in a terrible situation as they had caught it very early.

‘Obviously it was a very tough time for myself, family and close friends.’

Lauren went on to have an MRI scan to ensure the cancer had not spread elsewhere, before she was operated on to remove her cervical cancer.

She says: ‘I was very fortunate as one month later I was given the good news that they had managed to remove it successfully.

‘I still need six-monthly MRI scans and smear test as there is still a slight abnormality which they want to keep a close eye on.’

In England, women aged 25 to 49 are invited for free cervical screening every three years, while women aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years.

But in the Portsmouth area, screening uptake levels are low.

For the financial year 2012/2013, 52,000 Portsmouth women that were eligible for screening were invited for a test, but only 11,700 were screened.

And in Hampshire, of the 326,000 women eligible for screening, only 79,600 took up the invitation.

Professor Julietta Patnick, is director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, who says cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease.

She says: ‘Unlike many cancers, cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease.

‘A woman can control her risk of developing the disease by being screened regularly.

‘Any abnormalities that might be found can then be treated in order that they do not go on to develop into cancer. Where a cervical cancer is found through screening, it is usually at a very early stage where treatment has a greater chance of success. It is essential that women are aware of this when deciding whether or not to be screened.

‘The smear test is a quick and painless procedure, usually carried out in the GP practice.

‘A sample is taken from the cervix (neck of the womb) and examined in a laboratory to detect any changes or abnormalities in the cells found there.’

Lauren is now urging women to make sure they get tested. She says: ‘The whole procedure went fairly quickly, even though it seemed like a lifetime when I was going through this.

‘I really want to encourage every woman out there to have a regular smear test.

‘I’m not sure everyone is aware that you should go every three years up to the age of 50, then every five years to the age of 64.

‘I had no symptoms and if it hadn’t have been for my smear test I could have been in a much worse situation.’

Lauren has set up a Facebook group called Better Awareness, to help promote cervical screening.

This is the eighth European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, run by the European Cervical Cancer Association.

It was set up to promote three messages.

The first is to inform the public about the importance of being screened.

The second is to ensure doctors, nurses and other health care providers have accurate and up-to-date information about cervical screening, and the third is to help politicians to understand the issues.