Written by Katie Norbury – creator of @getpapped
It’s time to get serious about screening.
If you are 25 or older and you haven’t had a cervical screening (formally known as a Pap smear), you need to book one with your GP. It’s as simple as that.
What is a cervical screening?
A cervical screening is a simple test performed by a doctor to check for HPV as HPV can create cell changes on the cervix which can lead to cancer. Anyone with a vagina who has been sexually active, regardless of the gender of your sexual partner, is recommended to have a screening when they are 25 or earlier if they experience any abnormalities.
What is HPV?
HPV is a very common STI, it is estimated that over 70% of sexually active adults will contract at some point in their life. It is important to remember this isn’t a shameful infection to contract, it’s common and most people you know will have had it in the past, have it now or will contract it at some point.
What is the difference between a cervical screening and a pap smear?
As mentioned before, a cervical screening is specifically looking for HPV whereas a pap smear looks for changes in the cervical cells that might have happened as a result of HPV. Both tests feel the same to the person it is being performed on, the key difference is the accuracy in the test and the timeline of the test. A pap smear was given when you first became sexually active and every three years after that if you had a normal result. Now we are lucky enough to have better accuracy and less frequent visits to our doctor.
Now we have the key technicalities out of the way, I want to introduce you to Get Papped and myself. Get Papped was founded after I experienced an abnormal pap smear when I was 22, before the system was updated to a cervical screening and before the 25-age recommendation was implemented. Looking back now, if the system had changed to a cervical screening before a pap smear, I probably would have never even known I had an abnormality. As I mentioned before, most people contract HPV at some point in their life, but it is most commonly contracted when you’re under 25 and your body is most likely going to fight and get rid of it on its own. HPV isn’t tested for when you get an STI check and you aren’t given medication to fight it.
After being told I had an abnormality, I quickly realised how frightening most of the information online was. Any information relating to an abnormality on a screening screamed the word cancer after every sentence. I quickly became anxious and began catastrophising my abnormal results- which I quickly found out was happening a lot to other people.
The reality was, my abnormal result was actually quite normal. Once I began telling friends about my results, they knew someone who had been through the same or they’d had something similar happen to them. I began accidentally creating a little community of friends comparing our updates, other people we knew going through the same and our experiences.
My results continued to show an abnormality and eventually, I had to visit a gynaecologist to have a biopsy. Again, the information online was frightening, and the thought of the biopsy terrified me. I turned up to my appointment in tears and the receptionist even gave me a hug to let me know everything would be okay. It was all okay. I had an incredibly patient gynaecologist do the biopsy who made me feel supported.
The information online and the scenarios in my own mind led me to think the biopsy would be more frightening than it actually was. I felt supported in my appointments and empowered to make decisions for my own health, but something was missing with the information and conversations outside of a medical setting and I decided that I wanted to change that.
I came up with the concept of Get Papped to spark the conversation around cervical screenings and to encourage people to hold their loved ones accountable for their screening. In my eyes, not enough people were talking about their abnormal results and I imagined so many of them were holding onto shame around them. I knew this wasn’t something to be shameful of, so I wanted to spread the message loud and wide.
Get Papped primarily sells birthday cards that are designed to be given on someone’s 25th birthday, or whenever they are due for their next screening appointment. Inside the card reads
“This card has a special meaning, it’s time for your cervical screening. You’re very important to me, so let’s make your health a priority. Happy birthday!”
Get Papped aims to be light-hearted, to reduce the stigma and to work towards encouraging more people to book their screening appointments when they need them.
In addition to the cards, we also run a practitioner directory so people can search for a local GP who has been recommended by someone within the Get Papped community. The biggest barrier to booking a cervical screening for many is not having a doctor who they feel comfortable and empowered visiting. Knowing someone within the community has visited and had a comfortable experience with a GP, will hopefully empower someone to book the appointment they’ve been avoiding and ensure they’re taking control of their health.
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