Thursday, June 25, 2009

I do understand, truly I do, exactly why the government has decided not to hand out free smear tests to women in England under the age of 25.

It's absolutely logical. Studies suggest that below that age more women have false positives - which scares them. Subsequent unnecessary treatment may be harmful - and even necessary treatment can occasionally cause damage to the woman and premature birth to her future children. And - though of course this couldn't possibly be a factor in the government's decision - increased smear tests cost money that could be spent on other more urgent causes. You know it makes absolute sense.

And yet, and yet.... If it makes such sense, how come countries like Denmark and Sweden set the test age at 23? How come the advice in many countries is to have the test at 21? And how come the rest of the UK offers smear tests at 20 (why do the words 'postcode' and 'lottery' come inexorably to mind?)

But actually, my main worry here isn't to do with the figures, the statistics or even the logic of the argument (nor am I, as so many press sources are today, citing the Jade argument). No, my main worry is for individual younger women, women who because of their youth are probably less aware of the risks of cervical cancer whilst at the same time being more at risk simply because they are in that life stage of having many partners. The hard fact is that if we lowered the smear test age - lowered it way down to the average age of sexual intercourse at 16, we would save lives. Not many, but a few. And the fact that we aren't doing so horrifies me.

I'm not arguing that cervical smears are a better use of money than other heart-rending health causes - who am I to deny the importance of treatment for leukaemia, infertility, heart disease. and who is anyone to make comparisons and judge who should get the cash?What I'm arguing is that tests would be a better use of money than so many other things that the Government spends on - warfare, thousand-pound-an-hour consultancy, and of course, second homes and dirty videos.

My suggestion? Just cut a fraction back on the expenses and put that money into bringing England into line with the rest of the UK when it comes to the life-saving smear test...

PS: When one writes an academic paper, one need to cite 'vested interests'. This isn't an academic blog, but here is mine. At age 31 I had my own positive smear test, which led to treatment for developing cervical cancer. Yes, even with the age bar held at 25 I would have been spotted and saved. But I still feel a shiver at the thought that any woman, absent the possibility of that test, will have to go through the treatment and the trauma that I suffered.

1 comment:

Hayley said...

Hi Susan, thanks for the blog.
Anything and everything always comes back to money, no extra money to put into causes that needs it. But that government for you, will it change? I don't think so, it'll be a long hard slog, with limited results.