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'When body shame starts to endanger lives, it becomes a public health issue' More than a third of women aged 25-29 are not attending their cervical screening appointments. Here Dr Sharon Hillier, director of screening for Public Health Wales, explains why the smear test could help save their life...

Byline: Sharon Hillier

AS WOMEN we are frequently made to feel, either overtly or implicitly, that our bodies are not good enough.

They are too fat. Too thin. Too short. Too tall. Too saggy. Too wrinkly. Too much cellulite.

The pressure on women - especially young women - to look a certain way can be so intense that many believe they must conform - and can experience anxiety and even shame if they don't.

I appreciate that as a woman in my late forties I feel comfortable with my body now, having coped with eczema since being a teenager. But I do understand the challenges.

We are not meant to all look the same. Our personalities are all different, and our bodies are too. This is normal. I believe that we should celebrate our diversity, and that extends to every part of our body.

But when body shame starts to endanger lives, it becomes a public health issue.

Cervical screening rates are at an all-time low across the UK, and the reasons behind this are complex.

For some women it is the difficulty of making the appointments available at times which suit them.

For some women who are survivors of female genital mutilation or sexual violence, it is understandably very difficult.

While others - wrongly - believe they are not at risk because they have not had sexual intercourse, or they're in a same-sex relationship, or they've had the HPV vaccine.

However, the most common reason that women - especially young women - give for not having their cervical screening is body shame.

Research from Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust shows that 35% of young women are embarrassed about attending cervical screening because of their body shape, the appearance of their vulva (34%), and concerns over smelling "normally" (38%).

Currently more than one-third of women in Wales aged 25 to 29 do not attend for cervical screening.

None of us want to think about mortality, but the sobering fact is that cervical cancer is the most common type of cancer in women under the age of 35.

Cervical screening saves lives. By not taking the time to make an appointment women are missing the chance of preventing cervical cancer from developing, or picking it up at an early stage when it is more treatable.

As a public health professional and a mother of two daughters, I find it devastating that issues around body shame could be stopping women from taking action which could save their life.

Last week we launched the #loveyourcervix campaign, which calls for women to be body-positive, value themselves and love every part of their body - even those parts they can't see, like their cervix.

And the best way to take care of their cervix is to go for regular cervical screening.

Speaking to cervical screening nurses, the point they want to get over, time and time again, is that they have seen hundreds of women, and every woman is different down there.

Everyone is unique, and this is natural and normal.

Every year around 160 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Wales.

For some women treatment is straightforward, and the results are good. However, others may need a hysterectomy and further cancer treatments.

Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for a cervical screening test every three years, and women aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years.

Please make your cervical screening appointment when you are invited. If you are overdue, then please take that time to make your appointment.

If you're not sure, call Cervical Screening Wales to check. My invitation came two weeks ago, and I have it booked in next month.

This isn't just a female issue. This is something that men can help tackle too. For all the men out there, please encourage your friends and loved ones to go for their cervical screening.

Cervical screening saves lives. It's as simple as that.

| Call Cervical Screening Wales to check if you are overdue your cervical screening on: | South East Wales Region: 029 2078 7910 | Mid & West Wales Region: 01792 940 940 | North Wales Region: 01352 803277


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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 18, 2019
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