People skip out on important things related to their health every year: their annual doctor’s visits, their blood draws to check their cholesterol – they even skimp on their medications. There are a number of reasons that they do it, from a lack of health insurance to plain old stubbornness or an insistence that they’re just fine. Surprisingly, embarrassment reigns on that list as well – it’s one of the main reasons that women choose not to get their Pap tests.
The process for getting a pap smear is relatively quick: an instrument is inserted, opened, a swab taken, and the swab sent away for testing. Contrary to the myth that a Pap smear test takes a lot of time and is painful, the process is actually painless; still, in a survey of about 2,000 women in the UK, about a third of them say that they skip or decline testing because they are embarrassed about the smell.
Broken down, the survey found that 35 percent of women skipped their test because they were embarrassed about their body shape, 34 percent were concerned about how their vulva appeared, and 38 percent were concerned about the smell. 33 percent reported that they would not get tested if they hadn’t shaved their lower area, and another 15 percent said that they would skip their test if other commitments interfered.
According to the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, cervical cancer is the most common cancer to strike women under 35, and – when they delivered the survey – two-thirds of the women who were surveyed weren’t aware that they were at risk. Not having this awareness can post a huge health risk, as Lauren Bennie learned. Having put off getting her Pap smear until she was almost thirty, she wasn’t aware that she could contract cervical cancer.
“So many silly things stopped me from going for my smear test,” she says. “I worried about the nurse being able to take one look at my bits and have some magic skill to be able to determine the number of sexual partners I’d had. I thought a lot about what kind of underwear and clothes to wear.” It wasn’t until she got the test back that she began to worry.
Facing symptoms such as dyskaryosis (known as abnormal cells) and colposcopy, Bennie underwent surgery to remove a part of her cervix. “Luckily I received the all-clear,” she says, “but if I had delayed my smear test any longer it could have been much worse. My smear test could have saved my life, please don’t put yours off.”
Nurses who work with the charity assure that the process will remain as professional as possible. “Please don’t let unhappiness or uncertainty about your body stop you from attending what could be a life-saving test,” says Robert Music, who works with the trust. “Nurses are professionals who carry out millions of tests every year, they can play a big part in ensuring women are comfortable.”
Pap smears are a women’s issue that is severely overlooked, and like the conversation about sexual harassment and women’s rights, there should be a constantly-prevalent conversation about it.
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