Apr 12, 2021

TangataWhenua.com

Maori News & Indigenous Views

A cervical smear could save your life

3 min read

Cervical cancer affects hundreds of New Zealanders. This year alone, about 160 women will get cervical cancer and about 60 women will lose their lives to it many with dependent families. It is the third most common cause of cancer in Maori women – at nearly twice the rate of all women and the fourth leading cause of death.

But it is also one of the most preventable of all cancers. The best protection against developing cervical cancer is having regular cervical smears which can reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer by about 90 percent.

You go for your life_caption[1]Cervical cancer is caused by a common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is passed on by sexual contact and most people will come into contact with it at some stage during their life. HPV often clears by itself, but sometimes it can cause cell changes on the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer.

Cervical smear tests every three years are recommended for women between 20 and 70 if they have ever been sexually active. The short test looks for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. If abnormal cells are found, treatment is very effective at preventing cancer.

It only takes a few minutes to have a cervical smear, but it could be the difference between life and death for some women. To find out about joining the National Cervical Screening Programme, ring the freephone on 0800 729 729.

Winne Tuau hadnt had a smear test for 11 years when she eventually overcame her fears and got checked out. After walking past a Cancer Society stall at her local Waitangi Day Celebrations, Winne finally decided to join the National Cervical Screening Programme.

I used to have regular smear tests, says Winne, who has 12 children, but nothing was ever wrong back then, so I just didnt bother with it for a long time. But then my mother and my cousin both died of cancer and I started to think about the important things in life.

Even after the loss of her mother, something held Winne back from having a cervical smear.

The main reason was the fear of what if something is wrong?. I was scared to get the test done in case the results came back and it was bad news. I kept wondering whether everything would be in order if my life was cut short. Would my children be alright? Part of me didnt want to know, but at the same time it was really playing on my mind.

Winne finally decided to get her cervical smear for the sake of her loved ones.

It was the thought of my whanau that persuaded me in the end. I had to do it for my children I didnt want them to go through the same suffering as I did when I lost my mum.

I realised that it was better to know one way or the other and if there was something wrong, the earlier it was caught the more easily it could be treated.

Winne had the smear test and was surprised by how easy and painless it was. She was told a few days later that her test was all clear.

I was very nervous waiting for the results, but when they came back okay it was such a relief! From now on I intend to act on things instead of waiting. I felt so glad after I had the test done and was reassured that things were fine.

Where to go for a cervical smear

It is important that you feel comfortable with the person who takes your smear. You have a choice of where to go to have smears:

  • your local doctor or practice nurse
  • the Family Planning Association (FPA)
  • your sexual health service
  • marae-based or other Maori health centres
  • community health services, for example, Pacific or womens health centres

The Programmes freephone number is 0800 729 729.

Did you know?

  • Regular cervical screening is undertaken by a substantially smaller proportion of Pacific and Maori women than other groups.
  • Immunisation is now available to protect women against two common types of HPV (types 16 and 18) that cause around 70 percent of cervical cancer.
  • The vaccine does not protect against all HPV types; therefore, women who have been immunised must still continue to have smear tests.

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