You Can Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer

25th January 2023

Ashlea Walsh

“I was really fortunate that my cancer was detected early, things could have been very different today if I had ignored my invitation to attend for cervical screening.” The thoughts of Ashlea Walsh who was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer in November 2022. Thankfully she has just received the news that her surgery and treatments have been successful and she is now clear from cancer.

Cervical Cancer is the most common female cancer in women under 35 and it is a preventable disease.

Cervical screening is vital to detect pre-cancerous cells before they develop into cancer. Women aged 25 – 49 will be called every 3 years for screening and women aged 50 – 64 will be called every 5 years. The test takes a few minutes and will collect a sample of cells (a smear) from the cervix to be tested. Some women may feel a little uncomfortable during the test but it is not painful.

Ashlea knows first-hand of the importance of cervical screening, she did not experience any symptoms and was only alerted to her cancer when she attended a routine cervical screening appointment. She was immediately referred to Lagan Valley Hospital for further investigation and a biopsy was taken to determine the cancer type and stage. Ashlea explained, “An emergency consultation appointment was arranged for me at the Ulster Hospital after my biopsy to receive my cancer diagnosis. My husband attended the appointment with me for support, I am so glad that he did, because all the information coming at me was very overwhelming.

“I had some idea that receiving an urgent appointment meant that I would be given bad news, but it was a huge shock to me to hear the word cancer. All I could think of in that moment was my two small children and how we needed to find a way to ensure I would survive to see them grow up.

“Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Dr McGuckin and the Gynae Oncology Nurse, Fiona Rice were wonderful, so understanding and gentle with their approach. They were informative and easy to talk to and they really did their best to put us at ease.

“Having Fiona and her colleague Paula as my keyworkers just a phone call away through my treatment journey was very reassuring. They approached things in such a humane manner and nothing was too much trouble. They checked in with me every other day and advised me of services that the whole family could avail of, even the dog!

“I could never have enough words to truly thank them for everything they have done for me.”

Gynae Oncology Nurse, Fiona Rice said, “We are fortunate to participate in the smear screening programme which allows cells on the cervix to be monitored for changes from a very early stage. Early detection of cell changes on the cervix allows timely action for further investigation and treatment.

I would recommend that anyone called for their routine smear test to attend the appointment. I would also encourage everyone to be vigilant in recognising the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer:
1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding usually between periods, after or during sex or at any time after the menopause.
2. Discomfort or pain during sex.
3. Other symptoms may include an unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge.
It is important to seek immediate medical assessment if you have any of the symptoms above.

Ashlea also urges all women to attend their appointments when invited for cervical screening, she stated, “Please attend your regular screening appointments, I was really fortunate that my cancer was caught early and because of this my children do not have to face life without me. Smear tests can be a little embarrassing but those few awkward minutes, could save your life.”