Eliminating Cervical Cancer – We Can All Play Our Part

By Catherine Best @CBest_23

Catherine Best is a registered nurse, Practice Educator at Saint Catherine’s Hospice in Scarborough North Yorkshire, UK and a Queen’s Nurse with the Queen’s Nursing Institute

It’s embarrassing right?

Hands up ‘Who likes going for smear tests?’. Not me, that’s for sure and probably not any of the women who attend clinics every year to undergo this often embarrassing, but essential test.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) cervical cancer or cancer of the cervix, is one of the most preventable and treatable of malignant diseases, and yet it is the fourth most commonly detected cancer in women worldwide.

Associated with the significant embarrassment of the ‘dreaded smear test’ (even saying the words can bring on the shivers), many women fail to attend their appointments and are literally dying of embarrassment.

The week beginning 18th January 2021 is dedicated to raising awareness of the impact of cervical cancer and how we, can play our part, in eradicating this most heinous of cancers from our lives.

Awareness days, weeks, months and even years are becoming increasingly popular as a way of focusing on disease and ill health that, without intervention, have the potential to put people at increased risk of premature dying, overwhelm our healthcare service and destroy the very health of our nation.

By taking action to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening (smear test), whether this is talking about it, attending appointments or even pushing campaigns that reach the very corners of society; we all need to be saying that ‘we are doing something’.

Essentially, what we really need to do though is:

  • If eligible, have the HPV vaccine
  • Practice safe sex – HIV is a significant risk
  • Don’t smoke, smoking increases the risk of cancer and other health problems
  • Attend for regular cervical screening
  • Talk to our family and friends, about attending for cervical screening. It’s not just the responsibility of women to do this, but everyone

 Disappointingly, however as statistics show, many women still, do not attend for screening, putting them at increased risk of dying from cervical cancer; significantly impacting on the potential to eradicate cervical cancer from our lives.

 So why should we take action?

Well, there are often no obvious symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer – that’s why it’s so crucial to do all we can to reduce the risk. Public health has done a great deal to reduce this risk, but it’s up to us all to make it work.

And as we now knowThe world is not standing still either.

For the first time ever – the world has committed to eliminate a cancer.

 And it just so happens – to be cervical cancer

On 17th November, 2020 the World Health Organisation launched The Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer as a public health problem.

 And with WHO releasing new estimates of the global burden of cervical cancer associated with HIV, it appears that we need a multi-dimensional approach.

So, along with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which has put both global health and gender equality as a high priority and the WHO placing the elimination of cervical cancer firmly on the global healthcare map, as nurses we have all the support we need to take on this challenge and assign cervical cancer to the proverbial scrap heap for good.

 Disappointingly, however, cancer in women especially those from a BAME background cervical screening can also be a taboo subject, perhaps ‘due to fear, stigma or sometimes ignorance’.

Taboo subjects therefore have the potential to discourage women from attending screening. Likewise, a potential lack of understanding of the need for screening, that may include those who are trans and/or non-binary people, simply adds to the inequalities that exist. No-one should die of ignorance.

So, crucially, as nurses, we must all be able to have frank and honest discussions about cervical cancer, and work with society, to bring it firmly and without prejudice out into the open.

And we can do this by:

  • Finding out how we can play our part in developing effective systems.
  • Undertaking smoking cessation training. We need to know how to encourage patients to ‘give up’.
  • Getting involved in the 2021, cervical cancer prevention week and seeking out resources available. They are plentiful.
  • Becoming actively involved in raising awareness through social media. If this isn’t something you want to get involved in, then seek out those who do.
  • Knowing how and when to broach the subject of cervical screening.
  • Making sure that those attending for cervical screening know how to prepare themselves for the test.
  • Seeing ourselves as global nurses. What we do today affects all women across the globe and not just those in our local communities. The stronger we get behind the campaign the greater our chances are of success.
  • Using the term ‘cervical screening’ instead of ‘smear test’, even terminology can be a barrier – be prepared to explain what it is and answer any questions honestly
  • Having additional resources, such as leaflets available
  • If eligible, making and attending your own cervical screening appointment

Although we are still in the grip of a pandemic, we mustn’t be put off ‘making a difference’. Cervical cancer as with any other cancer, respects no boundaries. It doesn’t take time out; nor does it give us a break.

As nurses, we shouldn’t rely on our Care Commissioning Groups, local services and councils to promote cervical screening either, for according to the report ‘Cervical screening in the spotlight’, this is limited. We can lead from the front. By taking this global challenge firmly within our grasp, we too can ‘Light up the world in teal’ and become world  pioneers, and together eliminate cervical cancer for good.

Footnote

Those registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council can use their learning to meet the requirements of revalidation. It’s not just learning that’s needed though…its action!

and by taking action we are able to reflect on our professional experiences; taking our learning to a new dimension.

Resources and information are available from a number of organisations:

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

GRACE – Gynae-oncology Research and Clinical Excellence

Cancer Research UK

The Eve Appeal – which highlights the five cancer risks for women

MacMillan Cancer Support

UK Cervical Cancer

British Gynaecological Cancer Society

 

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