eptember is Cervical Screening Awareness Month and the message is that it’s worth women putting their health first for the ones they love. Women are encouraged to consider the impact their health has on family and friends, and ensure their smears are up to date.
Around 72 percent of women aged 25-69 years in Northland had a cervical smear in the past three years, slightly behind the national average of 76 percent.
Cervical screening rates for Maori women are around 10 to 20 percent lower than the wider population and they are a priority here.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable of all cancers and screening women every 3 years can reduce the risk of developing it by up to 90 percent.
The cervical smear test saves lives because it’s all about early detection. The sooner any abnormal cells are picked up, the sooner a woman can be treated.
“While a smear is not necessarily something women look forward to, it can save your life” says Te Hiku Hauora GP Clinic registered nurse Alison Mills. “Having a smear test doesn’t take long and is a simple procedure which usually takes only 10 minutes and a nurse’s appointment.”
Smears are screening tests to find abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. These cell changes are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus, which most people come into contact with at some stage in their life.
Most HPV infections clear by themselves, but some high-risk types can cause cell changes on the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer 10 to 20 years after infection.
Abnormal changes in the cervix as a result of HPV happen very slowly. Regular smears mean there’s a high likelihood that abnormal cells will be found and treated before they become cancer.
Immunisation is now available to protect women against two common types of HPV (types 16 and 18) that cause around 70 percent of cervical cancer. Women who have had the HPV vaccine should also remember to have regular cervical smears. The vaccine does not protect against all HPV types; therefore, women who have been immunised must still continue to have smear tests.
See your doctor or nurse if you have:
• bleeding between menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse or after menstrual periods have stopped (menopause)
• unusual discharge from your vagina
• persistent pain in your pelvis
• pain during sexual intercourse.
These symptoms can occur for many reasons, but they should always be checked out.