I am due to have a womanly examination next month. I am neither looking forward to it nor am I dreading it. It simply has to be done. It takes literally a couple of minutes and it could save my life. It is a smear or Pap test. This is the light scraping of cells from my cervix, a painless procedure even if it does involve “sticking my bum in someone’s face” which will then be sent to a laboratory to determine whether the cells are normal or not. It is recommended that women aged 25 to 44 have this test every three years and women aged 45 to 60 every five years. Regardless of age however, once a woman has her first test, she needs to have two normal results before she can move onto the five year test. This time frame will obviously change if abnormal cells are detected in the meantime. So that’s one slightly uncomfortable and undignified two minute test every few years to keep you healthy. What could be less time consuming? It takes longer to brush your teeth. If you’re brushing them properly. The reassuring thing about cervical cancer is; it is one of the good cancers to have. If there is such a thing as a good cancer to get. I hear that a lot lately and I wonder who are they trying to kid. Personally I don’t care how good or bad a cancer is; cancer is still cancer and if there is a way to significantly increase my chances of remaining cancer free, I will do it. Quitting the smokes is one way of reducing that risk. But giving up the habit also significantly reduces every other cancer risk as well so you are onto a winner immediately. See your GP straight away if there are any changes in your cervix. You will know because you may have bleeding or spotting at irregular intervals. And the best way of all to reduce the risk is go for those regular smear tests. I keep repeating this. I don’t think you can say it often enough. It’s important that people are getting the message because I know there are plenty of women who avoid going for this test. They go out of their way to avoid it. I know of someone who changes their doctor every three years or when the doctor starts pressuring them to have the test, whichever happens first. They reckon they are too squeamish. Cancer doesn’t know or care what squeamish is. I know a mother of two who has never had this test done. Ever. They may even have said they just never got around to it. Cancer doesn’t give a toss about your timetable either. There are younger people out there, in their twenties, who are of the opinion that being in your twenties is enough to protect you. They are not in the “risk” category, apparently. Cervical cancer isn’t fussy whether you lost your virginity at 15 or 35. Once you are sexually active, you are “at risk.” Cervical cells change so slowly and take so long develop which makes it a preventable disease. Once you go for the test that is. This is why a test is required only every couple of years. That’s how leisurely it is. All the same, it is the second most common form of female cancer in Europe. It is also worth noting that if a family member has abnormal test results, i.e. has been found to have cancerous cells; this does not mean that your chances are increased. In other words, cervical cancer does not run in families. This test is free. If you received an offer from your car dealership, optician or even your dentist, offering you, free of charge, a full road test, a complete eye exam or a dental clean, would you turn them down? Would you drive your car if the tyres were bald? What about with broken wipers on a wet day? Would you let your child out on his bike if the brakes were dodgy? Yes, you have to go in, drop your drawers whilst grinning (or maybe not!) and bearing it for a couple of minutes for an intimate examination. I can think of better and nicer things I would rather do as well, but I’ve had enough of these tests done now to know how quick the procedure is. We owe it to ourselves to have this test. We owe it to our kids. Cervical cancer may be an easy one to “catch” and treat but if it’s the one that we let get away, it can and will kill us. Our kids will be without their mother. And all because we didn’t find the time, we were too squeamish or were of the opinion that it won’t happen to us. It can and it could! Please, do you and yours a favour today; research www.cervicalcheck.ie for more details on cervical screening. Once you are registered they will even send you out a reminder for future checks. It will also show you where you can go for this test if you don’t want to visit your family GP, the one that has known you since you were in nappies. I know they’ve “seen it all before” but if they haven’t seen yours nor do you want them to, that’s fair enough. Go somewhere else. Anywhere else. Just go!