It is three years since my last cervical pap smear reported that everything was well in that region and, in that time, a new man’s semen has been spurted against my cervix. Because I know that the risks of contracting the virus which causes cervical cancer begin to increase, the more sexual partners you have, I booked myself in for a new test.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that infects the epidermis and mucous membranes of humans.
There are over 100 types of HPV, ranging from the completely harmless through others, which can cause genital warts, and on to the 30 high-risk types. The latter, which affect the genitals through sexual contact with an infected partner, can lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, and anus in women. In men, they can cause cancers of the anus and penis. Carriers and sufferers can be asymptomatic and, whilst genital warts seems to be an obvious sign of a problem, this does not occur in all cases.
We have to remember that cervical cancer is caused by only one or two types of the virus, hence the current decision in the UK to vaccinate young women aged between 13 and 18, even those who have already had sexual intercourse, in the hope that they have so far not been exposed to either strain.
There has been a great furor in the British press recently because a young girl died a few hours after being given the vaccine. It later transpired that she had other health problems which were actually the cause of her death, but a great deal of bad publicity was given to this unfortunate event, to the detriment of the cervical cancer vaccination programme.
From the fact that all my previous smear tests have been normal, clearly the father of my children was not a carrier and, whilst my new man had a full sexual health check before we became physically involved, as far as I am aware, this virus is not something that they check for in men as part of that test. So, three years on, with no apparent symptoms, I had my pap test and kept my fingers crossed.
I try to arrange my cervical smears for around day 17 of my cycle – as late as possible in the time parameters so that ovulation can be sure to have occurred. Without the sticky residue that accompanies this, there were repeated callbacks because of insufficient cells on the slide and it is also far more uncomfortable when they take the sample.
The much-publicised death of Jade Goody from cervical cancer at the age of 28 has seen a huge increase in the take-up of tests offered to women on the NHS and, therefore, the results are taking six weeks or more to come through because of the backlog.
However, what has become known as the ‘Jade Goody effect’ has also caused a lot of young woman under 25 to request a cervical smear. Unfortunately, this is not currently available to them on the basis that statistics show the risk to these women is not so great as for those over 25. This seems very wrong since there are still women dying in their 20s as a result of this disease going undetected, Ms Goody being a very prominent example.
In the event, for me, the smear itself went smoothly. The metal speculums of the past have been replaced with a new plastic variety which feel much more comfortable upon insertion. The sample is now acquired with a sort of brush and enough cells were collected to provide an adequate amount for testing.
Fortunately, after six weeks, the results came through clear.
With testing so quick and easy, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to go for your smear when you are called by your local surgery. However, I would also ask you to remember that using a condom when you have sex is the best way to protect yourself from any of the consequences of contracting the human papillomavirus.
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Joanna Cake is a life blogger who writes about health, parenting, sexual relationships and intimacy.