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Cervical Cancer Prevention Week: making cervical screenings accessible to disabled women

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is from 20th to 26th January 2020. It is an annual campaign, run by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, in which people can find out how to reduce their risks of the disease and to educate others.

However, for disabled women, the biggest challenge is being able to access cervical screening. Read on to find out what cervical cancer is, the myths and stigmas of cervical cancer and the campaign to give disabled women access to cervical screening.

Latest NewsWhat is cervical cancer?

Defined on the NHS website; “Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). It mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45.”

In most cases of cervical cancer, there are no symptoms in its early stages. If symptoms do occur, the most common symptom is abnormal virginal bleeding, which can occur during or after sex, in between periods, or new bleeding after you have been through the menopause.

Women who are diagnosed can be treated with surgery, radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy.

The myths and stigmas of cervical screenings

The best way to prevent and identify cervical cancer is by having a cervical screening, commonly known as a smear test.

NHS says: “Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for screening every 3 years. Women aged 50 to 64 are invited every 5 years. For women who are 65 or over, only those who have not been screened since they were 50, have had recent abnormal tests or have never been screened before are still eligible for screening.”

A cervical screening basically involves a nurse taking a sample of cells from a women’s cervix using a small, soft brush. They send this to a lab to test for high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) and if the patient has HPV, any cervical cell changes.

Unfortunately, many women are reluctant to have the test done and believe it isn’t worth it. There are many myths and stigmas surrounding smear tests including:

  • it’s embarrassing
  • it will hurt
  • I’m too young to get cancer
  • cervical cancer is less common than breast cancer.
  • I don’t need a smear test if I’m gay
  • there is a vaccine for HPV.

This is why cervical cancer prevention week is so important because it is raising awareness and encouraging all women to have cervical screenings.

Making cervical cancer screenings accessible to disabled women

As good as it is to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screenings, sadly many women with physical disabilities are unable to access the test because there is a lack of accessibility at GP surgeries.

A public survey, conducted in 2019 by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, found that:

  • 88% of women agreed that their disability made it harder to access/attend their Cervical Screening.
  • 63% admitted they couldn’t attend their Cervical Screening at all due to their disability.
  • 22% are unable to leave the house because of their condition, yet their GP doesn’t offer home visits.

Blogger and disability activist, Fiona Anderson, researched the difficulties disabled women had when booking a cervical screening.

In her blog post titled Booking Your Cervical Screening When You Have a Disability, she discovered:

  • GP’s believe disabled women are at less risk of getting cervical cancer because they are not sexually active.
  • Lack of hoist provisions for people who cannot transfer or weight bear.
  • Unable to offer home visits for patients who are housebound or bedbound.
  • Having to go through several GP appointments and phone calls before being referred to as GYNE/Women’s Hospital.
  • A lack of understanding of different disabilities, such as spasms and involuntary movements from a patient with cerebral palsy.

Fiona has also created a petition to make cervical cancer screenings accessible for disabled women. So far, almost 110,000 have already signed but Fiona would like to reach even more people.

Are you a physically disabled woman unable to access cervical cancer screening? Or have you been lucky enough to be given the access and support you need to get your smear test done? Share your stories in the comments box or on Facebook and Twitter.

By Emma Purcell

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