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Dublin: 10 °C Friday 26 April, 2019
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Here's how you can help to carry on Laura Brennan's legacy

The HPV vaccine campaigner passed away this week.

THIS WEEK, HPV vaccine advocate Laura Brennan passed away at the age of 26.

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The Co Clare native was diagnosed with cervical cancer stage 2B at age 24 and was given a terminal prognosis. A vocal supporter of the HPV vaccine and the cervical screening programme, Laura was determined to combat misinformation prevent others getting the “devastating” cancer.

Her involvement in a HSE campaign was instrumental in reversing the fall in the numbers of teenage girls availing of the HPV vaccine which protects against cervical cancer. She was awarded the first ever Patient Advocacy Medal by the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, recognising her advocacy in trying to get more young women to take up the vaccine.

“I wish the vaccine had been available to me, of course I do,” she said. “Don’t get swayed by rumours about the vaccine’s safety. This vaccine saves lives. It could have saved mine but it can save yours.”

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb). Cells of the cervix can become abnormal and change slowly after many years to become cancer. But because they change at a slow rate, this can make cervical cancer preventable. 

Cervical cancer is often diagnosed in younger women. It is the second most common cancer in women aged under 35, after breast cancer.

Almost everyone who is sexually active will come into contact with HPV at some point in their lives. Cervical cancer does not discriminate on this basis.

Symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • A pain in your pelvis (anywhere between your bellybutton and the tops of your thighs)
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Vaginal spotting or discharge
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding after sex 

What you can do

Get a smear test: Regular cervical screening is one of the best ways to identify early changes in cells of the cervix. CervicalCheck invites women aged 25-44 are invited for cervical screening every three years, and women aged 45-60 are invited every five years. You should still attend cervical screenings even if you have been vaccinated against HPV as the current vaccine does not guarantee protection against all of the HPV types.

In order to get the letter inviting you for a smear test, first you have to register online at CervicalCheck.ie with your PPS Number under the ‘When is my next smear test’ tab. Once you do that, they will send a letter out a couple of weeks after your 25th birthday encouraging you to make an appointment.

While the thought of a smear can be off-putting for sure, but for most women, it is not painful and takes less than 10 minutes.

This is usually what goes down – your doctor will explain what the test is and what they’ll be doing. You’ll then be asked to strip from the waist down and lie on the bed. The GP will then insert a speculum (a medical tool that holds the vagina open). The more you relax, the less discomfort you will experience during this part.

The doctor or nurse will use a small, specialised broom to gently brush off a sample of cells from the cervix. This sample is then sent to the laboratory to be checked. And that’s it!

shutterstock_1051987901 Source: Shutterstock/La corneja artesana

Talk to your friends: Have the discussion with your mates, especially if they’re turning 25 or have never gotten a smear test. Encourage them to talk to their GPs about cervical cancer, screening, and the vaccine available.

Women can often be put off by the test on the grounds of discomfort or awkwardness (looking a speculum, can you blame them?). Let them know that you don’t even have to book your own GP to do the test – you can make an appointment with a different clinic through CervicalCheck.ie.

Quit smoking: You can lower your chances of getting cervical cancer by not smoking. Smokers are less able to get rid of the HPV infection from the body, which can cause cancer to develop.

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