GET IT CHECKED - AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO ALL WOMEN OUT THERE
Today I'm bringing up a more serious matter. In this post I (Sara) am going to talk about the importance of testing your self for cervical and breast cancer, and I will also talk a little bit about my thoughts on the HPV vaccine. I know it's not exactly a joyful topic, but please keep reading, as it is a very important issue. I would also like to point out that this post is not meant to scare or to make anyone anxious about potential symptoms etc. it's only a way to hopefully raise some awareness and encourage you to go to your regular check-ups which are advised by the health-authorities.
Cancer is a very sad and scary topic - no one likes to read or talk about it, but it sadly affects pretty much everyone, either directly or indirectly.
For women, breast cancer is the most common. It stands for about 25% of all cancers in women according to The World Research Fund. Cervical cancer is another big one, and Cancer Research UK says on their website that there was 3224 cases of cervical cancer in UK alone in 2014.
LETS PICK UP THE FIGHT
CHANGES IN YOUR BREASTS
The good news is that there are ways of detecting these type of cancers at an early stage, and the survival rate is on the rise.
So about a year and a half ago I noticed two quite obvious lumps on the breasts, one in each but in different places. It worried me but I just left it thinking it was nothing. I mentioned it to both my mum and my boyfriends mum and they both thought I should see my doctor (even if the chances of it being something serious was tiny).
So that's what I did and after examining both lumps she referred me to the breast clinic at St Johns hospital, close to London Bridge. I know many people have their issues with the NHS (the national health system in the UK), but I was very impressed with how serious and quickly they dealt with this - even if the chances of cancer was small. Within less than two weeks, I had an appointment at the hospital. I got examined by a specialist first before having an ultra sound scan of both breast. The doctors took it very seriously, and spent a lot of time examining me before ruling out the chance of cancer.
I was only 24 at the time, and the chances of someone that age getting breast cancer is very small, still they told me it was good that I had come in to see them as you can never be too sure! They told me to keep a close eye on any changes in the lumps, and I have already been in for a second check up at the hospital. Moral of my little personal story is that you should ALWAYS get things checked, even if the chances of it being something serious are small. Thankfully in my case it was noting serious, but if you actually have one of the bad lumps then it is incredibly important to get it dealt with as early as possible. I'm not saying that we should all be overly worried about these things, and go for check ups with our doctors every month, but I think it's important for all women to be aware of their breasts, and address it if you do happen to detect an obvious change or lump.
If you are unsure of how to check for changes, and which changes are normal or abnormal - then follow this link for more information: FIVE STEPS OF A BREAST SELF-EXAM
CERVICAL SCREENING TESTS
So lets move over to cervical cancer, and how to get this checked. In both the UK and in Norway you will get a letter through the post from the age of 25 asking you to start with regular cervical checkups at your doctors (this may vary from country to country). They call the check up a 'cervical screening test' or a smear test, and it's a super quick and non-painful procedure to detect any abnormal cells on the cervix. For more info click here!
According to the NHS, they detect abnormal changes for around 1 in 20 women although a lot of these changes won't lead to cervical cancer. It is again however very important to get this checked regularly as removing any abnormal cells early can save lives. It is possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, although the condition is very rare in women under 25. Thats why regular checkups dont start until you are passed that age. You do however hear of rare cases of girls detecting abnormal changes in their cells in their late teens or early 20s. I am no expert, and can not give any medical advice what so ever - but I do believe that it is worth getting a test done for those under 25 IF in the rare case you happen to experience things with your body which aren't normal. Read about symptoms and what to look out for here.
In Norway for the last few years there has been a big awareness campaign going on called 'Sjekk Deg' which is a collaboration between the Norwegian cancer organisation 'kreftforeningen' and one of the countries biggest magazine for women called 'Det Nye'. The campaign is directed at women between 25 to 35, as the number of young women getting the cervical screening test has dropped dramatically over the last couple of years. According to the campaign, 4 out of 10 Norwegian women aged 25 - 35 don't go for check ups, and still over 700 females in Norway under 30 had serious cell-changes detected in 2013 alone.
It was Thea Steen who had the initiative to start the 'Sjekk Deg' campaign after detecting cervical cancer at a young age, and has since actively engaged her self into getting more young woman to go for regular check ups. after this campaign, the numbers of women age 25 - 35 getting checked has risen, and the numbers of detected abnormalities has risen, but also been treated thanks to 'Sjekk Deg'. Sadly Thea passed away last summer, and now her family is continuing her very important work.
THE HPV VACCINE
I'm aware that this post is getting very long, so this will be the very last topic I address. First some info about the virus and the vaccine:
- HPV is short for Human Papillomavirus, and there are over a 100 different types of this virus
- The HPV-infection is transmitted through sexual activity, and approximately 70% of us get contaminated sometime during our lifetime.
- Some types of the virus can lead to warts and/or increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Not all the HPV-viruses can lead to cervical cancer, and a lot of them are non-dangerous.
- The HPV-vaccine reduces the risk of HPV contamination and therefore reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer.
- The vaccine is part of schools vaccination program for teenage girls both in the UK and in Norway.
- It is still advised that women who have had the vaccine still go for cervical screening tests from the age of 25.
- From 2016 Norway are giving the vaccination for free to all girls born in 1991 or after, until the end of 2018 however you can pay to have the vaccination done if it's not available to you for free
So I am actually born in 1991, and luckily get the vaccination for free over in Norway. I have read and heard lots of different arguments both for and against having it and it seems to be quite a heated topic. The vaccine has been available for free to me for quite some time now, and I haven't had it done yet. Main reason for that is the fact that I am terrified of injections, and I have a tendency to just ignore the problem rather than dealing with it (not good!). I've also been quite confused when reading up on the information with all the back and forth about benefits, side effects and so on. I know people have their own personal opinions, but I have however concluded that having the vaccine is an absolute no brainer. If this vaccine can help reduce the chances of developing this horrid illness which takes so many lives, than why should you risk not taking it?
The vaccination is a process of three injections over 6 to 12 months. I have now scheduled to have my first injection this coming Tuesday, and I'm soooo not looking forward to it :P I know it's not painful, but like so many others I'm terrified of needles - so this is actually a pretty big deal for me getting it done. So wish me luck! :p
I hope you found this post useful, and that you will all help us spread the word about the importance of getting yourself tested!