Cervical cancer: Screening and prevention during pregnancy
The words ‘mum’ and ‘cancer’ should never go together – at least in an ideal world. But we don’t live in an ideal world, do we? We live in a world where 13000 cervical cancer cases are diagnosed in one country alone. We live in a world where 4000 women die of this disease each year. And we live in a country where around 800 women alone are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. In our imperfect and flawed world, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally. But these statistics can change. Which is why it is important to get screened for cervical cancer – with January being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time for book in for a screening test.
What is cervical cancer screening?
A cervical screening is a simple test that checks the health of your cervix and can help determine if you carry the HPV virus.
In case you didn’t know, the cervix is a tiny but very important place at the opening of the uterus.
And the HPV virus, which stands for human papillomavirus (HPV) is a little bugger that can lead to cervical cancer.
Now, the HPV virus can sometimes find its way to your cervix, which is why you need the cervical screening test. The sooner your healthcare provider knows, the better.
Now you may think, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of it. Isn’t that a free pap smear test that you have to get every two years?” Well, no.
A cervical screening test is not the same as a pap smear test. It has replaced the smear test. However, the procedure for both is quite the same and requires a cell sample from your cervix.
But the cervical screening test is better because: it helps identify risk better and faster than the pap smear because it aims to detect the HPV virus. If all results look good, the test needs to be repeated after five years instead of two.
What is the importance of cervical cancer screening?
Here’s why it’s important to get cervical cancer screening:
Cervical cancer has absolutely no symptoms, so there is no way to tell if you have it or are in the early stages of it.
90% of cervical cancers can be prevented if a test is used for early detection of the virus!
A majority of Australian women who develop cervical cancer have either never been screened or are overdue for screening.
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Is a cervical screening test painful?
A cervical screening test can get uncomfortable, but it is not painful. It can also feel invasive, but fortunately, it is pretty quick.
The process is simple and involves your health provider using a speculum and gently collecting a sample from the cervix using a soft spatula or ‘broom’ type brush.
And that’s it! You should be out of the doctor’s office in five minutes.
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What is cervical screening during pregnancy?
The cervical screening test is the same during pregnancy. (And also the same before and after pregnancy.)
It is, in fact, one of the questions asked during your first antenatal visit and many new mothers may be offered a cervical screening test for the first time.
The process is completely safe for you and the baby. If an HPV infection is detected, the second is repeated after the birth of the baby.
Do they check for cervical cancer during pregnancy?
A cervical screening test is the best protection against cancer.
If the test results from a cervical screening test show the presence of HPV virus, it is generally safe to continue the pregnancy. Fortunately, the infections do not impact your unborn child.
However, if the results are positive, the doctor will follow up with a repeat test after the baby’s birth and ensure the mother gets treatment.
Proper treatment of HPV, follow-ups and screenings can protect a mother would from cancer.
What is the National Cervical Screening Program?
The National Cervical Screening Program is a national programme that aims to create awareness about cervical cancer and reduce cervical cancer cases in Australia by offering a cervical screening test.
The programme is designed to offer access to a test to:
Women and people with a cervix
People who are between the ages of 25 and 74
have been or are sexually active
These eligible people can access the screening program through their healthcare provider.
What are the benefits of the National Cervical Screening Program?
There are multiple benefits of the National cervical screening Program.
1. Free for eligible people
Thanks to Medicare, cervical screening is free for eligible people, although you might have to pay a consultation or doctor’s fee to their GP or healthcare provider.
2. The registration process is simple
A quick login on the National Cancer Screening Register can help you get set up. You can update your health records, keep a tab of your screening test history and even see the date for any screenings that may be due.
3. Find a local clinic
The program even helps you find the closest clinic in your area.
You can also use the National Health Services Directory to conduct a quick search. Or log on to the National Cancer Screening Register website. If you prefer to call instead, you can talk to a representative at the following number: 1800 627 701.
4. Self-collection or healthcare provider
The program offers two options: a self-collection process or visiting your healthcare provider.
If you happen to be more of a DIY person or prefer a more hands-on approach, you can choose to collect your test sample using a self-collection swab kit. It’s easily available through your health provider and also comes with a detailed guide.
Or you could go with option 2 and let your doctor worry about it.
5. Results are quick and are updated online
Your test results can be sent to you at the clinic, or you can log in National Cancer Screening Register to view your results.
Cervical cancer awareness and support: Take a friend
Expecting or simply procrastinating? Or maybe you’re just afraid?
We recommend you register with a friend. This way, not only will you have moral support as you wait at the doctor’s office, but you can pencil in a lunch and make it memorable.
It’s a date.
Zofishan Umair Follow +
Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
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