Cervical Screening: Why it is so important

Cervical SmearBooking your smear test can stay on the ‘to do list forever (I know the feeling)!! Managing time off work, getting an appointment and making sure it isn’t that ‘time of the month’ makes it one of those things you just keep meaning to do…. But ladies it is FINALLY time, and here are the reasons why…

Cervical cancer is the number one cancer in women under the age of 35. In 2011 there were 3,064 new cases diagnosed in the UK making it the 12th most common cancer affecting women.

By going for your smear tests regularly, the majority of new cases can be prevented. Between the ages of 25-49 you will be invited for a smear test every 3 years and between 50 and 65 every 5 years.

The cervical screening test is not a test for cancer, it is looking for abnormal cells which can range from being mildly abnormal all the way through to cancerous The idea of screening is that we catch any abnormal cells early, and treat them, so we can prevent them from going on to develop in to cancer.

It works, the number of people diagnosed with cervical cancer has almost halved in the last 20 years since screening was introduced in 1988. But 22% of women in the UK still don’t go for their smears.

It is an intimate examination, but don’t let this put you off. It is a routine examination that we do all the time. Your doctor or nurse will use a speculum to visualize the cervix, this can be a little bit uncomfortable, but shouldn’t be painful. We then use a brush to sweep off cells from the area and send them to the lab for analysis. The whole procedure shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes.

If you are all clear, you will be asked to come back in 3 years, If abnormal cells are found, don’t panic, it doesn’t always mean the worst! You might be referred for a colposcopy so that we can look at these cells more closely. These abnormal cells can either be monitored (sometimes they change back by themselves) or removed depending on what stage they are at.

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) significantly increases your risk of getting cervical cancer. HPV is transmitted by sexual contact, and having multiple sexual partners can increase your risk. A vaccination against certain strains of HPV has been developed and is now being given routinely as part of the childhood immunization schedule at 12-13 years of age.

Whether you have had a smear or not – I have listed the important symptoms to look out for below and if you have any of them you must see your doctor immediately:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding – either in between periods or bleeding after sex 
  • Bleeding after you have been through the menopause
  • Smelly or blood stained vaginal discharge
  • Pain during sex

If caught early, the chances of survival are excellent. So pick up the phone and book that smear…!

Men: Why you don’t go to the doctor but probably should!

PriLakhani1

Men are notoriously bad at visiting the doctor. Yes, you slumping down in your chair, you know who you are! This week is Men’s Health week, a week dedicated to raising awareness of common conditions that are specific to men, helping them to understand when and why it is important to seek help.

I’ve outlined a few of the commonest problems men face, which are often the ones they talk about the least.

An Enlarging Prostate

Your prostate is a small walnut size gland that sits at the base of the penis. As you get older, your prostate naturally enlarges. This can lead to urinary problems. Sometimes they can start by just being a bit irritating and annoying, but often, left untreated they become worse over time. Signs and symptoms your prostate might be enlarging include:

  1. Getting up more often at night time to pass urine
  2. It takes you a bit longer than usual to get going
  3. Your stream isn’t as strong as it used to be
  4. You have a bit of dribbling at the end
  5. When you need to go, you need to go!

If you have any of these symptoms is important you see your doctor who can examine your prostate. This is done by placing a gloved finger in to your back passage (through the anus) and feeling the back of the prostate gland. They will also test your urine and might carry out a blood test called the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). A quick note on this test – it is specific to the prostate, but not specific for cancer, so if it is raised, it can be raised for a number of reasons.

Depending on their examination findings, your GP might decide to watch and wait if symptoms are mild, and suggest things like reducing your caffeine intake. If your symptoms are more troublesome, they can start you on tablets to help slow the growth of the prostate. Sometimes, in more severe cases, they will refer you to a urologist who might consider removing the prostate.

Testicular Cancer

This is the most common cancer diagnosed in men aged between 20-35 years (although overall a relatively uncommon cancer). But, the good news is, if is found and treated early it has one of the highest cure rates of over 95%.

The most common symptom is a painless lump in one of the testicles, usually about the size of a pea, but you can also get symptoms such as a dull ache or a heavy feeling in the scrotum, or a generalised swelling of the testicle. If the cancer spreads before it is found you might get symptoms of tiredness, back pain or shortness of breath.

It is important to say that not all lumps in the testicles are cancerous, there are many other causes, but any changes need to be examined, and quickly. You should examine your testicles about once a month, if you do it too often you might not feel any changes. You are looking for:

  • A hard lump
  • Any swelling or enlargement
  • Any pain or discomfort when examining
  • Any unusual difference between one testicle and the other
  • A dull ache in the lower stomach, groin or scrotum.

See your GP straight away if you have any worries or concerns.

Erectile Dysfunction

This is the inability to attain or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance. Research suggests that as many as 1 in 2 men above the age of 40 have been affected by this at some time. Which means… yes it happens, and yes it is ok to talk about.

There are many reasons why it can occur… It might be as simple as having had a few too many to drink, or sometimes, it can reflect a more prolonged unhealthy lifestyle. Stress, tiredness and relationship difficulties can all cause ED and can often be the first sign there is a problem. It is a sensitive ‘early warning signal’ in the development of cardiovascular disease, so it is important if this is happening to you then you visit your doctor.

Your GP will examine you, check your urine and blood pressure, and might carry out a blood test checking your cholesterol, sugar and testosterone levels. There are lots of treatments available, from simple to more complex. The commonest treatment is a tablet to help increase blood flow to the penis (the most well known being Viagra) along with diet and lifestyle changes.

There are other options such as injections, vacuum devices, urethral medication and even penile prosthesis. Sometimes, if the cause it thought to be psychological, you might be referred for counselling with or without your partner depending on what you feel most comfortable with.

Depression 

Everyone goes through times in their life when they feel down or depressed, and usually it is a natural reaction to something that has happened. But sometimes these feelings can last longer than expected and interfere with everyday life, and no matter how hard you try you can’t snap out of it.

Men are bad at talking about their feelings at the best of times, and to admit they have a problem, especially a mental health one, can be hard. I have to stress that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; depression is a common and serious problem, which without help will not go away. A few of the common signs and symptoms you might be depressed include:

  • Feeling low continuously
  • A loss of interest in things you usually enjoy doing
  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Finding it difficult to get to sleep and waking up early in the morning
  • Over or under eating
  • A loss of self confidence
  • Feeling tired all the time or unexplained aches and pains
  • Poor concentration and difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling like you can’t cope
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Thoughts about death, harming yourself, or committing suicide

The symptoms men experience compared to women can be slightly different. They can become more irritable, aggressive, or have sudden outbursts of anger. They might take more risks than they usually do, or feel like they are losing control. Often, they try and deal with their feelings by turning to alcohol or drugs.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms then book an appointment with your doctor to discuss how you are feeling, or if you are worried about someone you know, then encourage them to do so.

If you have any of the symptoms I have talked about or have any other health concerns book an appointment with your GP to discuss these further. Please don’t be embarrassed; we really have heard it all before!