This isn't our usual blog. We would usually look at bringing you lighthearted topics with a view to smashing through taboos, opening up conversations, equipping you with some fun facts and ideas to spruce up your sex lives.
But once in a while, there is a serious side to sexual health. A side that we need to raise awareness around. A side that often leads to you seeking medical advice. It's really important to understand that this is by no means a medically endorsed piece about cervical cancer, we are merely hoping to highlight cervical cancer prevention week and provide an insight into the importance of screening, looking out for symptoms, and a little bit of raising awareness about cervical cancers.
The Jade Goody Effect
The TV personality Jade Goody, famous for her stints on Big Brother, tragically died of cervical cancer in 2009. Her death, documented until close to her last breath, led to an incredible increase in awareness of the illness. The NHS saw a huge surge in women attending cervical screening. The media coverage of her cervical cancer diagnosis and death drove what became known as The Jade Goody Effect.
Prior, during, and even after her plight, Goody was mocked and shamed. And yet 15 years on, her legacy serves as a stark reminder of how life can turn, in an instant. Society was on the cusp of the social media surge and public prejudice lionised a larger-than-life 'normal person' who merely acted innocently and acted true to herself and her own values. Perhaps her story is a lesson to us all to live authentically, show our vulnerability and embrace ignorance because life can be unpredictable.
But for now, let's be exceptionally grateful to the woman from Bermondsey for shining a light on cervical cancer and providing a whole generation with a better translation and more information on what is common cancer. The figures speak for themselves. The number of women in 2008/09 who underwent cervical cancer screening increased by 400,000 from 3.2 million to 3.6 million. The trend to attend cervical screening appointments was heading downwards. Jade Goody sent it spiralling upwards.
Sadly, this trend is reversing now and The Jade Goody effect has worn off. Dangerously, awareness of the importance of having a regular smear test isn't being highlighted as strongly as it should be. It seems the anxiety around the test itself is keeping people away.
We're sounding a bit scary now so let's break it down a little bit and let's just reassure you that with testing, cervical cancer is easily detectable, treatable, and possibly even preventable.
What is Cervical Cancer?
It is the cancer of the cervix, the opening of the womb from the vagina.
What is the Main Cause of Cervical Cancer?
As soon as you become sexually active you are at risk of the disease. It occurs most frequently in women over the age of 30. The human papillomavirus (HPV) and long-lasting infection from this sexually transmitted disease is the main cause of cervical cancer.
What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
HPV is the name of a common group of viruses that in some cases can lie dormant but in others can cause problems. There are more than 100 different types and it affects the skin. They are very easy to catch and at some point, most people will catch some type of HPV throughout their life.
How do you Get HPV?
In short, from sexual activity. This could be skin-to-skin of the genital area, vaginal or oral sex and it could also be passed on through sharing sex toys. HPV can have no symptoms so you may not know you have it. This is why screening and pap smear tests are crucial.
Why is Attending Cervical Screenings Important?
Screening and smear tests aim to find and treat changes to cells in the cervix before they turn into cancer. Cervical cancer is in general a slow grower depending on how big it is when found so it's important to get checked regularly in order to then seek treatment if necessary.
What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
We cannot stress enough here that we are by no means providing you with a blueprint on cervical cancer. It is very important that if you feel like you are not quite right down there then it's vital you seek medical advice if experiencing anything out of the ordinary.
Symptoms and signs can include the following:
- bleeding after menopause
- pain during sex
- increased vaginal discharge
- bleeding after sex
- period bleeding that is longer than normal or heavier than normal
- spotting or light bleeding in between your periods
More often than not, there are usually no signs or symptoms of early cervical cancer which is where regular check-ups become life-savers. Quite literally.
How Do You Screen for Cervical Cancer?
A Pap test (smear test) is most commonly used to screen for cervical cancer. A speculum (looks a little like something you'd find in your kitchen drawer of utensils) goes into your vagina to make it a little wider. From experience, this is the bit everyone dislikes intensely. Possibly to the extent that they avoid the test. This is the bit we all need to get over. Because it could be life-saving.
Once your vagina opening is a little wider a tiny brush is inserted, brushed around your cervix momentarily to collect cells. The cells are then checked under a microscope. So there it is. A couple of minutes of a slightly uncomfortable situation to check whether you have cancer. It sounds simple, doesn't it? It is simple. Make it simple.
How Can I Keep My Cervix Healthy?
Get tested. We cannot reiterate this enough. It's not necessarily pleasant, but let's face it, who hasn't had a less than ideal sexual experience with someone else. Do you want to keep having sexual experiences? Do you want to keep having 'life' experiences? Then look after your sexual health as well as having the sexual bit too.
If your test comes back as abnormal don't panic. But be proactive. Follow up. Don't ignore it. Why would you?
It's a serious topic we’ve just toured you around. Any discussion around any form of cancer is serious. Sexual health is serious. We want sex to be fun and open and 'just sex'. But we also want to educate. We want you to look after you. We want you to play safely.