Sunday, 24 January 2016

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week

The women in my family have featured heavily on here at times, with the notable exception of my paternal Grandmother, pictured above. 
When my Nana died from cancer in 1986 she left a gaping hole in all of our lives. It was my first real experience of intense, searing, grief, and as anyone who has experienced such pain will attest to, it never leaves you. Every family gathering, every time we all meet up, she is noticeably absent. She never met my husband, nor her great-grandchildren.

If my glorious, hysterically funny, beautiful, happy Grandmother had gone for a cervical smear earlier, she may still be here. Maybe not, but we will never know, because she died when she was 60 years old, from cancer that originally started in her cervix.

I met up with The Eve Appeal again this week to discuss an upcoming project I am involved with, to be told that not only has the uptake of smear tests decreased since the introduction of the HPV vaccine, but that there is still some stigma around the vaccine itself.

It would appear that somewhere along the way, the message that there is a vaccine available that can help prevent some cervical cancers, is translating either into 'we don't need to get tested', or 'my daughter doesn't have sex, she's too young'.

This is not the case. Please, please, read the facts below, and for the love of sanity, if you have a cervix, keep up to date with your smear tests. If you are receiving reminders, make the appointment. If you have any unusual symptoms, please do not dismiss them. Make an appointment. 

If you have a teenage daughter, sign the consent to let her have the vaccine. It does not mean she is a slut, it means you are being a grown-up and acknowledging that one day, unless she turns into Julie Andrews and joins a convent, she will have sexual contact with someone else. One day. Most of us do. It's a normal human thing to do. Get rid of the stigma. 
Have the vaccine, have your smear tests. Take care of your Lady Garden people.

Being 'coy', 'shy' or just plain embarrassed, could literally be the difference between life and death. 

HPV is a very common virus. Up to 80% of people will be infected with a HPV infection at some time during their lives.
There are over 100 different types of HPV.  Around 40 types of HPV affect the genital area, of which 13 of those can cause cancer (high-risk HPV).
In women, high risk HPV can cause: cervical, anal, vulval, vaginal and some head and neck cancers.
Girls in Scotland are routinely vaccinated against HPV from aged 11, whereas the rest of the UK routinely vaccinates girls from ages 12 – 13; up to their 18th birthday. 
Your very first sexual experience may put you at risk of infection.
You are still at risk of contracting HPV even if you do not have penetrative sex as the virus is transmitted through genital skin-to-skin contact.
Infection with HPV does NOT imply either infidelity or promiscuity.
If you get high-risk HPV you will not require treatment nor will your partner. However, if your cervical screening test detects abnormal cells and high-risk HPV you may be sent for further examination.
For younger women who are eligible, the HPV vaccination helps reduce risk. It protects against four types of high risk HPV that cause 70% of all cervical cancers.
The immune system can help your body to clear an HPV infection. Yet, smoking can make it harder for the body to clear HPV.
HPV vaccine is 98% effective in preventing cervical abnormalities associated with HPV in those women who have not yet been infected with HPV.
Despite the fact that the vaccine cannot protect women from existing HPV infections, it can prevent reinfection.
The body can clear the HPV virus naturally, but when seen on a smear, the next smear test done is called a “test of cure” to make sure the body has cleared the HPV virus away.
The HPV vaccines are not a substitute for cervical screening. Having the vaccine reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer; however, it does not protect against all cervical cancers. Therefore it is vital that when invited to attend cervical screening that you do so. 
Cervical screening:
It is NOT a test for cervical cancer, it is a screening test to detect abnormalities in the cells of the cervix at an early stage, which if left untreated may develop into cervical cancer.
Between 90 and 94% of all screening results are negative.
Cervical screening saves 5,000 lives a year in the UK.
Having regular cervical screening offers protection against developing cervical cancer
A total of 4.31 million women aged 25 to 64 were invited for screening in England in 2014-15 and 3.12 million women were tested, representing a fall of 3.3% from 2013-14.
Cervical screening can prevent around 45% of cervical cancer cases in women in their 30s, rising with age to 75% in women in their 50s and 60s, who attend regularly.
Around a quarter (24%) of cervical cancer cases in England are detected by screening.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales; women aged 25–49 are invited every 3 years for a cervical smear and women aged 50–64 are invited every 5 years. Whereas in Scotland, women aged 20–60 are invited every 3 years. However this is due to change on 1st April 2016 to conform with the other countries eligibility criteria. 

For more information on The Eve Appeal, go here:

And her blog:


  1. An excellent and profound post Caroline. I always go when called for a screening. Ladies, please don't let fear, nerves or embarrassment potentially put you at risk. GO GO GO! Have a safe flight to LA Caroline xxx

  2. Thank you for drawing attention to this! I have lost two close friends to this disease. One at 42 and one at 47. Both had regular smear tests and were unlucky - one, because of the position of the cancer (and for foolish vanity then insisting on keyhole surgery), the other because of the rarity of the strain of cancer (and not going to a more specialised hospital). It attacks younger women. It is sexually transmitted, and you only have to be unlucky with one partner. You have to take any steps you can to avoid this terrible cancer... vaccination, regular smear testing and being aware about HPV... and let's not just focus on getting the girls vaccinated - the boys need to be vaccinated too, for their own and their partners' protection.

  3. Excellent post! When I was 19 I went to my GP to see if I could have my smear test early to be told "I shouldn't be having sex anyway". I'm now 21 and still haven't been back to see if I can get one. Your post has prompted me to try again! Second time lucky!

    1. Wow! None of their business whether you are having sex at a perfectly legal age anyway!

    2. Absolutely - I was so embarrassed.

    3. I think it depends on your symptoms. Generally they will only give you a smear test under the age of 25 if you are presenting symptoms to them that are of concern. Nurses carry out the smear so can you not just over ride and book an appointment with the nurse?? Otherwise write down a list of your concerns and bring them with you when you see the doctor and explain why you want the test done early. Good Luck.

  4. I have never understood where all the stigma comes from. It is the same thing as not teaching your children about contraception and hoping that this way they just won´t have sex. Anytime.
    Prevention is key, screening saves lives and if the vaccination had been around when I was 11, you bet my mother would have taken me to get it. Just like I will take my daughter 9 years from now.

    Linda, Libra, Loca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

  5. The whole thing with parents not taking their children for vaccines is ridiculous! My mom took me to the doctor for the HPV vaccine when I was 15! And now I always book appointments for a smear test around my birthday.. I don't know why, but it has stuck to me and it's a pretty good way to start my next year of life!

  6. Thank you.

    Your HPV facts are super useful, I didn't realise your body can clear a HPV infection!

    I just wish we were able to get tested more often thank every three years !

  7. Very good to write about this Caroline! So sad that your grandmother died of this terrible disease. Screening here in the Netherlands is only every 5(!) years for ladies aged 30 up to 60. Which I personally find ridiculous. I go more often just to be sure. And I do not care about this simple test if this could save my life.

  8. Mu mom has HPV and knows how difficult it is to live with the thought that you are at risk for cervical cancer, so in 2006, when I moved to Canada for school, the first thing she had me do was to have me get the vaccine not yet available in my country (Uruguay). I have this brilliant woman to thank for a bit more peace of mind and my government to thank for making anual Pap smears mandatory by law since the age of 20 and giving every woman to right to have one paid day off work to get it done. I lived in Canada for 5 years and now I live in the Netherlands and I am shocked how women's health is not properly protected, I am shocked that Pap smears are not the norm and that many women struggle to get them because they're busy working, being mothers and taking care of their family.

    So thank you Caroline for raising awareness and sharing your story, all of us women have to take charge of our bodies and health and stop beating around the bush. We all have vaginas, so it's time we start taking care of them the same way we do the rest of our body and not feel ashamed to do it.

  9. It is very important to speak with your doctor, mine was found at very early stage 17 years ago and since then I have had three beautiful daughters. As women we take care of everyone else, it is also important that we take care of ourself.

  10. Great post Caroline. I am male and yes physically it does not affect me but on the grander scale of things it does. I had a grandmother, I have female friends etc etc it makes so much sense. Don't die of ignorance. As always you hit the nail on the head. All the best and I am truly sorry for you family's loss. RIP your paternal Grandmother. Hugs, Neil x

  11. Great post Caroline. I am male and yes physically it does not affect me but on the grander scale of things it does. I had a grandmother, I have female friends etc etc it makes so much sense. Don't die of ignorance. As always you hit the nail on the head. All the best and I am truly sorry for you family's loss. RIP your paternal Grandmother. Hugs, Neil x

  12. I do wish that boys could get the HPV vaccine too. I know HPV won't affect them, but it's a way for them to help protect future partners, perhaps those girls whose parents wouldn't let them get the HPV vaccine because of silly hang-ups.

    When I got my first "please make an appointment" letter, I put it off for so long. Two years in face, just through sheer forgetfulness. Since then I haven't been invited for another, I should probably chase it up. The fact is, that people tend to have sex a little younger than people would like to think, and the ages of screening should be reduced to reflect this. THis kind of screening and going for regular STD hecks is something that should be taught to young people, for their own health, and the health of the person/people they have sexual contact with.

  13. Yes, yes, yes. Excellent post. You are rapidly becoming one of my favorite people on the internet. I recently started following your blog and while I am amazed at what your advice has done for my skin, I am even more impressed with how you work in many important messages (like this one). You are a witty smart lovely woman and I thank you for all that you do for your internet community.

  14. Thanks for this post, it's very informative and something everyone needs to know more about! I'm 22 and I would really like a smear test but I'm unsure how to go about this if I'm not 25. Do I just go to my GP (or GUM clinic?) and request one?

    1. Either will be fine. You can simply make an appointment with your GP surgery's nurse for one. It's simple and quick, maybe a bit uncomfortable but worth doing x

  15. Yes by a million Caroline. What a powerful and important post. A couple of years ago I had a polyps, then a colposcopy, then a D & C. The whole thing frightened the life out of me but ALL WAS OK. As is usually the case if you regularly have smears. It seems to still be a bit of a 'head in the sand' issue here in Ireland, probably elsewhere, which is very worrying. I feel lucky to have made it this far in life in a time when we can have smears, vaccinations and stay safe. Your grandmother looks so lovely and glamorous. ♡♡

  16. I am a living example of what can happen if you miss your smear. I was heavily involved with complications follow up and tests following my colon cancer in 2009 and dropped the ball, missing my smear. Deep down, I foolishly thought 'I've had my cancer, it won't strike again!'. Last May a new GP asked me 'when did you last have a smear' and I honestly couldn't remember, but I booked it there and then for the next day. Within a week I knew I had cervical cancer. To cut a very long story short, I had a radical hysterectomy, removal of ovaries, chemo and radiotherapy . Some or all of that may not have been necessary- if I had kept up to date with my routine screening!
    I don't know what my future is, as I developed toxicity to the radiotherapy and couldn't complete my course , but whilst I am on this earth my daughter will be nagged senseless about her cervical smears!

  17. Very important post, Caroline. I know here in the U.S. males also have the option to be vaccinated--a trend which I hope will continue. If we could also limit the number of HPV carriers then women who for whatever reason do not have the ability to vaccinate could still be protected. HPV can also cause genital warts and anal cancer in both sexes so it really is worth it for everyone to be vaccinated!

  18. Here in Germany it is actually mandatory to have a smear test once a year if you want to get the pill, therefore for most girls it is completely normal to have that test done - it's just something that happens when you go and get your yearly pill prescription :)

  19. I think it is completely bonkers that in this country they only start screening at 25. By that time you've been over the age of consent for 9 years, and even quite abstinent women may have had a few sexual partners. And I know *so* many women who had abnormalities well before the age of 25. Anyway, totally agree - get your smear tests, follow up with results and take care of your health.

  20. Yes! Please women, get your smear, vaccinate your children (males too).
    I had my first smear at 19 and it showed I had CIN 3, which is the stage before cancer. Thankfully, after a cone biopsy and a few months of panic I have been clear since. I'm 47 now and have 2 kids.
    I am so glad that I had a smear then rather than putting it off!

  21. Cannot believe in this day and age that women don't go for routine smears. I mean it's a couple of minutes and it's a procedure they do everyday.

  22. Tomorrow I am going for a loop excision to remove my high grade cell changes (CIN 3) caused by HPV. I had a routine smear test at the end of 2014 that showed signs of HPV and I was sent for a colposcopy and a cervical biopsy as a result. All came back clear but I was put on to annual smears. I went for my first annual smear at the end of last year and there was no HPV but the previous HPV had changed my cells abnormally. I was sent for another colposcopy and cervical biopsy. My biopsy showed no signs of cancer but the changed cells need to be removed and those pesky blighters will be gone tomorrow. Prevention is better than cure and the NHS are so quick to act and so lovely about this. I had my smear test on 4 December 2015 and my abnormal cells removed 25 January 2016. The vaccine wasn't available when I was at school, if it was I would have had it, end of.

  23. I am having a loop excision tomorrow as a result of CIN 3 type cell changes that showed up on my smear test that I had at the end of 2015. I had a smear that detected HPV at the end of 2014 and after a colposcopy and cervical biopsy I was given the all clear but put on annual smear tests. My smear test last year showed no HPV but high grade cell changes. I was sent for another colposcopy and cervical biopsy, my results showed no signs of cancer but the abnormal cells need to be removed, and they will be tomorrow. It'll be roughly 8 weeks between smear test and treatment. You can't fault the NHS on those timelines. Smear, smear and smear again ladies! The vaccine wasn't available when I was at school but if it was my parents and I would not have thought twice about it.

  24. I feel pretty clueless about all of this which I'm quite embarrassed about. I had my first smear last year at 25, no abnormalities fine. But I was too old for the HPV vaccine when it came out in school, is this something you can have later? Is it not needed after 18?
    It seems so strange that other countries have the oppurtunity to have a smear earlier and every year when it is only from 25 and every 3 years here in the to do some research.
    Very good post for putting it to the forefront of people's minds.

  25. Such an important message! I waited til 28 to have my first smear, I stupidly put it off when I received my first invite at 25 because I was too embarrassed and thought it would be some sort of traumatising experience. Once I finally did it, I felt ridiculous for even thinking that because it was over so quickly and nothing to worry about at all.

    1. Thank you for sharing! I've just turned 25 and have been getting letters in the post but ignored them because the idea of going made me uncomfortable. But I think I'll make an appointment, hopefully it won't be as bad as I think!

  26. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE understand the importance of vaccinating boys/men as well. The HPV vaccination should not only be targeted towards women. For this virus to be stopped males must be vaccinated as well. Take a look at the protocol being established across Canada and bring it to the attention of your Public Health agencies in the UK.
    Your sons have no protection against HPV and could develop life threatening illnesses as well if they are not vaccinated/

  27. All the more poignant as one of my close friends is 40 & a lone parent to a 5 year old boy. She is also in palliative care, maybe if she'd gone to the doctors sooner she would have been treatable.,Brings it home when it's someone close.

  28. Thank you for this post Caroline, thank you so much!

    Gosh I love my country, in France smear tests are very normal tests to have for women of any age.
    Right now they are witnessing a drop in "older" women category, like if after 50 it was less necessary so they are strongly advertising on it.
    Every two years my gynecologist (whom I'm seeing every year) is testing me. I've been since I turned 19 and started seeing one for regular check-up. And at every visit she is checking my breasts as well (and reminds me of how to do it myself).
    I can't believe there is a stigma associated to such thing, this is just protecting ourselves and saving lives.

  29. Some of these statistics are horrifying, especially when it's such a simple test to have done!
    Your grandmother was a beautiful lady, I'm sorry you lost her so young <3

    Jess xo | The Indigo Hours

  30. I booked in for mine today after seeing this post I realised it has been five years!

  31. In Switzerland the smear test is done yearly, as part of your regular check-up at the gynecologist.