A Dundee woman diagnosed with cervical cancer after a routine smear test, joined a national drive, on February 9, to get women talking about cervical screening.
Rachel Lindsay, 26, added her support to the ‘Flower’ campaign by joining with her friends to urge women not to ignore their smear invite.
With six women being diagnosed with cervical cancer every week in Scotland, a new short film challenges the reasons women give for not attending their smear. Viewers are urged to ‘nip cervical cancer in the bud’, by not ignoring their next smear invite or contacting their GP practice if they missed their last smear.
The NHS Health Scotland and the Scottish Government campaign is targeting those aged 25-35 in Scotland, as cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women of this age group.
Statistics highlight between April 1 2015 and March 31 2016, one in three women (33 per cent) aged 25-35 in Scotland didn’t go for their smear when invited.
A smear test can detect cells that could turn into cancer. The five minute test is the best way to protect women from the disease and helps save around 5,000 lives a year in the UK.
All women in Scotland aged 25 to 49 are offered a smear test every three years while those aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years.
Rachel Lindsay, who credits the test with saving her life, is backing the campaign in the hope of encouraging other women to take part in screening.
The PA from Dundee was diagnosed with cervical cancer in August 2016 after attending a routine cervical screening appointment.
Rachel said: “After the smear, I received a letter informing me that abnormal cells had been detected and I was asked to have a biopsy taken at the hospital. My mum came with me and I was told that they could see a mass on my cervix which could be cancer.
“I just felt numb and didn’t really take it in. I went to the hospital thinking the biopsy was just routine and we ended up being there for hours discussing my treatment options and arranging scans. I was so glad my mum was there with me for support but the next few days were really difficult, having to tell my friends and family.”
Rachel’s diagnosis was confirmed a few days later when all of her test results were received and reviewed.
Rachel explained: “The tumour was on the cusp of four centimetres - chemotherapy and radiotherapy was my best option.
“I had ovarian transposition surgery before any treatment to move my ovaries out of the field of radiation and help prevent my body from going into early menopause. I also had egg retrieval which were then frozen so that I have the option of having my own children in the future.”
Rachel started her treatment at the end of September and over the next six weeks she had five rounds of chemotherapy and twenty-five rounds of radiotherapy and finished with 16 hours brachytherapy on November 10, 2016. Rachel continued: “Despite everything I’ve been through, I’ve taken it in my stride and had a very positive attitude throughout. My boyfriend, family and friends have supported me through the whole of my treatment and I really can’t thank them enough.
“I had no side effects from the chemotherapy but I couldn’t avoid the effects of radiotherapy - I had extreme tiredness, stomach pains and problems with my bowel but I am just so grateful that the treatment is now complete.
“Cervical screening is so important. Just because you don’t have any symptoms doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for your smear. I had no symptoms so if I hadn’t gone for my smear when I did then the outcome could have been very different.
“It takes five minutes of your time and is so beneficial to your health and life in the long run.”
Rachel’s 25-year-old cousin, Raegan Todd, a dental nurse from Dundee, said: “When I first received a letter asking me to make a cervical screening appointment I ignored it. I was so nervous about going that I just put it off.
“I had not long had my baby and Rachel said that if I could go through childbirth then I could get a smear test! I decided to bite the bullet and I couldn’t believe how worried I’d been about such a simple procedure. I was surprised at how quick and straightforward it actually was. I will never miss another cervical screening appointment. It really is nothing to be frightened of.”
Kerrie Watson, NHS Tayside nurse specialist and smear taker, said: “A smear test takes approximately five minutes and most women are surprised by how quickly it is over.
“We understand that the prospect of a smear test may seem daunting but it shouldn’t be. We are happy to talk through any anxieties that you have prior to your appointment and we are trained to make the test go as smoothly as possible.
“There’s no such thing as a silly question, that’s what we are here for. So, please do not ignore your next smear invitation, regular screening does save lives.”
For more information on cervical screening, visit getcheckedearly.org/cervical-cancer