SCREENING: Don’t put that test off for a minute longer

Patient waiting for gynaecological examination, low section
Patient waiting for gynaecological examination, low section

Columnist Nicola Farah highlights the importance of taking up invitations for routine screening...

In a month where we’ve lost a host of beloved stars - from David Bowie and Alan Rickman, to Terry Wogan and Rene Angelil - I was pleased to get a tour of BMI Thornbury Hospital’s new digital mammography equipment and see, firsthand, the work that is being done to make cancer screening even more effective.

I read an incredible statistic this week, from Cancer Research UK, that revealed one in two of all people born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. Scary stuff, of course, but that’s exactly why routine scans and the opportunity to give ourselves the chance of early detection wherever possible is so important.

In my own family, my mum-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, thanks to a routine mammogram which detected something that could not yet be felt. After a gruelling year, that saw her undergo an operation and then lose her hair as she handled chemotheraphy and radiotherapy like a trooper, she is healthy today - and cancer free.

Cancer is no longer a death sentence, and that’s the fact we have to cling to when the odds seem stacked against us. I lost three of my four grandparents to various cancers. Today, although a cure still eludes us for the moment, research has led to significant improvements in both detecting and treating cancer. Early detection, through breast screening, bowel scope screening, smear tests and many others, is giving us the leg-up we so badly need.

When I was in my twenties, I attended a routine smear test, where doctors discovered I had high grade cell changes in my cervix - basically an early indicator of cells that, if left untreated, could develop into cervical cancer. I hadn’t wanted to go for the smear test, I knew it would uncomfortable and probably a little embarassing; I now thank my lucky stars every day that I went. After undergoing a procedure to remove the cells, and having follow-up tests, I no longer have any pre-cancerous cells. That’s why I find it scary to read that one in four women in the UK do not accept an invitation for a routine smear test.

Experts have estimated that cervical screening saves around 4500 lives each year in the UK and that, since screening was introduced in the 1980s, the rates of cervical cancer in this country have almost halved. That really is something.

So please, if you’re eligible for some sort of screening, take up the offer. Nobody’s saying that ten minute appointment you’ve been putting off will be the most pleasant part of your day, but believe me - it’s worth it in the long run.