Cancer patient urges women not to ‘put off smear tests’

AN Islander who was diagnosed with cervical cancer is urging women not to put off getting screened, after she had to have intensive treatment in the UK.

Rachel Burnham is urging women to go for smear tests. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (30356764)
Rachel Burnham is urging women to go for smear tests. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (30356764)

Rachel Burnham was diagnosed in October and subsequently underwent seven weeks of intensive treatment in London. She will find out the results of the treatment later this year.

Having now returned to Jersey, Mrs Burnham, who lives with her husband and two children, is encouraging women to have their smear tests, which check for strains of the human papillomavirus virus – the most common cause of cervical cancer.

The virus can be passed between people through skin-to-skin and sexual contact, and 80% of people will contract it at some stage in their lives.

Mrs Burnham wants to highlight the importance of receiving regular checks as HPV is preventable, and effective vaccines are available.

‘It literally takes five minutes to have a smear test and it can change your life,’ she said. ‘It is not worth putting off and you have got to do it.

‘If you leave it like I did – and it’s not that I didn’t really like smear [tests] but I just kept putting it off – it’s ridiculous because I could have avoided having cervical cancer.

‘I would hate for anyone else to have to go through the treatment that I have gone through when, actually, it can be avoided.’

Smear tests are available for women from the age of 25 and it is advised that people have one every three years until the age of 49, unless they experience any symptoms. From the age of 50, smear tests should take place every five years.

‘I can go to my GP for a five-minute test instead of having to go and drag my husband along to London and spend weeks there away from family and friends,’ said Mrs Burnham.

Dr Kathy Gillies, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, said: ‘Most people don’t think the virus affects them and most will be unaware they have it, which increases the risk of HPV-related cancer.

‘It’s important that we all understand and manage these risks and we are encouraging women to beat their fear and get their smear for HPV Awareness Day.’

HPV Awareness Day took place yesterday and Health Department staff have organised a socially-distanced fundraising walk from St Brelade’s Parish Hall to the Royal Yacht on Saturday 20 March to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support and Jersey Cancer Relief. Mrs Burnham said she will be taking part, along with her daughter.

Meanwhile, Islander Kate Southern – whose daughter had an HPV vaccination in September – said that young girls should not be afraid to use the preventative measures available or to feel embarrassed about having a smear test.

‘I work in health and I see the impact of things that really are preventable. When you think about your child, you want to make sure that they are fully aware and make use of all the available opportunities that can help them later on.’

Men can also carry the virus and be at risk of HPV-related cancers, and should contact their GP for tests if they have symptoms. Infections in men are shown through the appearance of one or more warts in the genital area, thighs, groin or anus.

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