Preaching the importance of Cervical Screenings and Men's Health
No matter how many times we’re told that regular screening — and diagnosing cancer at the earliest stages — improves outcomes, it remains an irrefutable fact that screenings of your privates are not particularly fun. For every “I didn’t even notice it” smear test there are women for whom it’s a grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it necessity.
But 99.8% of cervical cancers are preventable. That’s because 99.8% of cervical cancer is caused by HPV (human papilloma virus) infection. HPV is an incredibly common infection (8 out of 10 people will get it at some point in their lifetime) but most strands of the virus are low risk, symptom free and do not lead to cervical cancer. In fact, fewer than 10% of HPV infections progress to carcinoma in situ of which less than 1% progress to cervical cancer. (CRUK) For those that do, catching cells before they turn cancerous, is an incredibly effective way to stop cervical cancer in its tracks.
The good news is that HPV is tested for as part of routine cervical screening (a smear test), offered to people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64. During a smear test, a small sample of cells are “swept” from the wall of your cervix and tested for abnormal changes, including HPV. With regular screening, changes in cells can be detected, monitored and acted upon (quickly) so that they don’t develop into cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer screening saves lives. In the UK, cervical screening prevents an estimated 2,000 cervical cancer deaths each year. Think of it this way: if it wasn’t so important, it wouldn’t be offered free on the NHS.
Some quick smear test facts:
There is no national screening programme for male-specific cancers in the UK. People are invited for bowel cancer screening between the ages of 60–74 but the only other national screening programmes are cervical cancer (above) and breast cancer (open to people with breast tissue between the ages of 50 an 70).
About 1 in 100 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer. While prevalent, nearly all men, 98% in the UK (CRUK), survive their cancer for more than 5 years after diagnosis, and it is very rare for the cancer to return after 5 years. As with all cancers, detecting it earlier increases the chances of quick treatment and increased survival outcomes.
With no compulsory screening in place, it’s really important that men make the time to get to know their balls. If over the age of puberty, you should be checking in every month, ideally after a warm shower/bath while the skin is relaxed. You should be looking for:
If you experience any of these symptoms, go get them checked over by a doctor. It’s unlikely they’ll be due to cancer, but it’s important to get them checked by a professional.
This article is, of course, not exhaustive. Men’s Health extends far beyond their balls and men should be stay attuned to any changes in their physical and mental health. Being healthy is a luxury, in body and mind. When in doubt speak to a friend and/or seek advice from a professional.
As for cervical screenings, yes they sound horrid (who on earth decided “smear” was a catchy name?) but they are incredibly effective at catching cellular changes early in order to halt progression to cervical cancer. If you’ve been putting yours off, book it today!
On this week especially (but crucially, on all weeks), let’s take some time to check in with, and check up on, our bodies.