The remedy is the experience

I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s important and so I’m going to bring it up again before I get carried away with the excitement and frivolity of going away again.

In February 2012 I had an abnormal cervical smear result.  For those of you who don’t know what the scale is 0=normal, 6=cancer, I was a 5.  I was shocked and scared.

I read about it, the procedure, how they might treat it and what could have caused it.

My smear had traces of HPV – human papillomavirus.

From “Risk factors for HPV infection include number of sexual partners, a relatively recent new sexual relationship and a history of previous miscarriage.  A study has shown that the main risk factors for CIN 3 among HPV positive women are early age at first intercourse, long duration of the most recent sexual relationship and cigarette smoking.”

I have slept with 3 people, I’ve never been pregnant or had a miscarriage, I was 16 when I first had sex (with my boyfriend of the time, always with a condom and a contraceptive pill) I don’t smoke and I’d just broken up with my boyfriend of nearly 3 years.

To be honest I didn’t really have time to worry about where it had come from, I had it and needed to get treated.

Thankfully I didn’t have cancer, just the abnormal cells, but thinking about it is scary enough and I had to spend a day in hospital getting them removed.  I had to have a wire loop biopsy, which involves a local anesthetic and a small wire with an electrical current running through it that cuts away the bad cells.  It wasn’t pleasant, I fainted afterwards (never done that before in my life), it was a little uncomfortable afterwards and it took time to heal.  But thanks to the NHS it was free, and quick and I was well looked after.

Our National Health Service is something that at some stage has touched the lives of everyone in the UK and it’s something we should be fighting to protect and not allowing to be torn apart, but that’s for another post…

I had a check up 6 months later and everything looked good, a small area that they thought looked suspicious so removed with a punch biopsy and now, nearly two years on, I am back to three year check ups.

But why did I get HPV? How did I get it?  I think the likely answer would be my ex-boyfriend.  I didn’t have it before I was with him, my previous smear was clear.  We’d been together for almost 3 years and he wouldn’t wear a condom.

This was something I was concerned about at first and I refused to have sex with him until he’d been checked at an STI clinic.  He came back negative for everything, so we relied on the pill.  What I didn’t know however, was that he’d been cheating on me for at least two years of our relationship with one woman that I know of, most likely more.  And I don’t know if they’d been tested or who else they were sleeping with.

In the UK we don’t talk openly enough about sex, relationships, sexual health and prevention. I don’t remember it being effectively covered when I was at school. At university we were given free condoms at the Freshers Fair but I feel like we should have had a compulsory sexual health talk that we would have all probably ignored.  I worked on a sexual health helpline and we did get some questions that made me think ‘seriously???’ but at least they were asking the questions to get the facts and the information.

I think the key is prevention, look after yourself.  Go to your smear test when you get the letter through, don’t be afraid and put it off.  Talk to your partner about their sexual history and yours.  Be honest about it and get regular STI checks.  Use condoms and a secondary contraceptive method – the pill, the implant, an IUD, the injection.  These will protect you from unwanted pregnancy, but condoms protect against STIs.  Protect yourself because, unfortunately, you are not always going to be able to fully trust your partner.

Talk to your teenagers about safe sex and protection.  Discuss with your daughters why the HPV vaccine is available. Find out where your local health clinic is and talk to someone there if you’re not comfortable with talking to friends or family.

Prevention is better than treatment or cure.  It’s easy to do.  Just don’t be embarrassed or scared.  This is important. You and your health are important.

It’s Cervical Cancer Prevention week from the 19th-25th January, that’s right now and I would bet many of you don’t know that.  I didn’t until I started checking into it.  I’m going to leave you with some facts about cervical cancer and a link to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which will tell you more.

  • Cervical cancer is the twelfth most common cancer in women in the UK and the third most common gynaecological cancer after uterus (womb) and ovary.
  • There were around 2,900 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the UK in 2010, that is around 8 women every day.
  • Around 6 in 10 of all new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in women under 50 years, that’s around 1,700 cases each year.
  • Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 in the UK.
  • Overall, cervical cancer incidence in Great Britain decreased by nearly half between the late 1980’s until the early 2000s, but the last decade has seen an increase of around 15%, mostly in women in their late 20s.
  • Cervical cancer accounts for around one in ten cancers diagnosed in women worldwide.
  • Worldwide, more than half a million women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008.
  • Cancer of the cervix is the most common cancer diagnosed in women in Southern Africa and Central America.

Information taken from Cancer Research UK

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