Realising that a smear was a test for cervical cancer, I felt silly and embarrassed and made a mental note not to bring it up again for another eight years.
The tables turned in 2008 after Jade Goody brought the risks of cervical cancer to light. The HPV vaccine, which protects against the strains of the human papilloma virus linked with cervical cancer, became available in schools and I once again contacted my doctor’s office requesting a test.
This time my request was granted, despite being only 21 years of age. Whether this allowance was down to panic (on both sides) or a long-standing relationship with my family GP, I do not know.
Since then, smears have been a supplement to every STD test I can remember having. I’ve always made sure to get tested once a year – this may seem excessive to some but for a semi-hypochondriac it’s pretty standard – and last summer, bang on the age of 25, my results came back differently.
After informing me that I had tested positive for the virus HPV type 16, I was reassured that I did not have cervical cancer but that cell changes could lead to malignancy over a period of time. My doctor recommended a colposcopy, which involves a telescope inserted into the vagina to examine the cervix and a six-monthly check-up until the virus had either cleared by itself or needed further treatment.
Now, for those that would assume reading the sentence, “Let me reassure you that you do not have cervical cancer” in a doctor’s letter is comforting, I can guarantee that is not the case. It’s sort of like being contacted by the Fire Brigade while you’re on holiday, telling you that although there has been a small fire in your home, not much damage has been done. The only word you really hear is fire. The only word I really read was cancer.
Of course, that initial panic does subside and you do quite quickly realize that, no, you don’t have cervical cancer, and that the only thing to do is to take the next step – in my case the colposcopy.
Nearly all types of cervical cancer are caused by HPV so if you haven’t had a smear, I highly recommend a trip to your doctor
The human papilloma virus manifests itself in many different forms and symptoms can range from genital warts to cancerous cells to absolutely nothing at all. In fact, most sexually active adults will contract it at some point in their lives but it usually goes away on its own with its host none the wiser.
However, nearly all types of cervical cancer are caused by HPV so if you haven’t had a smear, I highly recommend a trip to your doctor, followed by a request for the vaccine which is now proven to protect women up to the age of 45.
A month ago I had my second colposcopy in a year. I was hoping that similar to the majority of HPV carriers the virus had cleared on its own but unfortunately it had ramped up a notch, and I discovered I had moderate cell changes.
Once again the panic set in, questions about fertility played on my mind and “what ifs” distracted me from the most helpful mindset of just taking each step at a time.
My doctor acted quickly and scheduled me in for laser surgery within a week. I was anaesthetised and the cells were quite literally burned away.
In five weeks I will return to my doctor for another test. I know that laser surgery will remain my recommended treatment until the cells are eliminated or the virus disappears. Hopefully, more drastic measures will not be required.
In the meantime I hope to raise awareness so that women who haven’t had the vaccine remember to go for a smear. Because the fact is, cervical changes are easily detected and easily dealt with.
•For more information on HPV and cervical cancer visit macmillan.org.uk