Cervical screenings save lives
In 2016, I was diagnosed with CIN3 and abnormal cells which have a high chance of becoming cancerous if left untreated. I had to have surgery and now live without the majority of my cervix. It is a story that I was hesitant to open up about because of the stigma that sadly still exists.
We all know that MPs have seemingly endless opportunities to speak out on the issues that matter the most to our local communities. From flooding and domestic abuse, to trade deals and local banking services, variety certainly keeps us on our toes. Yet still, there are certain debates that speak to us as people, not politicians. For me, the opportunity to promote cervical screenings will always be a priority and a privilege.
Earlier this year I spoke about the consequences of me delaying a routine screening. In 2016, I was diagnosed with CIN3 and abnormal cells which have a high chance of becoming cancerous if left untreated. I had to have surgery and now live without the majority of my cervix. It is a story that I was hesitant to open up about because of the stigma that sadly still exists.
Despite my apprehension, one of the key reasons to share my story was to motivate – dare I say inspire – others to book their tests. It is fair to say I was overwhelmed with the response from people who contacted me to say they had done just that after reading.
Those with a diagnosis sadly often report feeling confused and ashamed
Despite the huge impact that coronavirus has had on our healthcare services, I hope that this sentiment remains even months later. Yet while I do believe we have made progress, it is clear having spoken to my own friends that there is still a pervasive stigma attached when it comes to issues of the cervix.
This stigma is particularly true of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a very common group of viruses that often do not cause problems, but in some cases can cause genital warts or cancer. Due to its predictive nature, HPV primary screening can have an impact of the levels of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of cervical cell changes and reduce the need for more regular screening. Going through treatment for cell changes was tough and I am pleased that HPV testing should decrease the number of people needing it.
Yet, there is still more work to be done. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that only half of those who see “HPV” on their results letter know what those three letters mean. And those with a diagnosis sadly often report feeling confused and ashamed. If everyone understood how common HPV is, how you can’t prevent getting it, and how it has nothing to do with sexual behaviour, we would see these feelings subside.
We’ve seen progress with the stigma around other viruses and while I recognise that we still have further to go, it is crucial that the dialogue around HPV opens up too. Recently my brilliant colleague Jess Phillips MP discussed how being told she had HPV felt. I encourage others to follow her lead, come forward and express how normal it is to have HPV – 4 in 5 will get it at some point, and many more people need to hear that.
And an important part of these conversations is to consider the regularity of screening services. We all know that our beloved NHS is overwhelmed, and I’m sure in the coming weeks, months and years NHS Trusts across the country will have difficult decisions to make about the allocation of medical resources. Yet cervical screenings are a simple, cost-effective procedure that can save lives. I’ll be having annual screenings for the foreseeable and although they aren’t top of my list of how to have a good time, I know they are particularly important given my history.
I’ll always be vocal about how important cervical screenings in so if you are one of the many who are putting it off, please do pick up the phone and get your appointment sorted.
Alex Davies-Jones is the Labour MP for Pontypridd.
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