Increasingly, there are a number of reasons women are avoiding smear tests, despite how important it is to have one. With one third delaying the procedure out of embarrassment, more scared of the discomfort of it and others fearing the results, far too many women are opting out of the potentially life-saving test. However, one of those concerns has seemingly been eased today, with a new study showing early cell changes can get better on their own in 50% of cases.
When going for a smear, the doctor is testing for abnormal cells in the cervix, with abnormal changes classified on a scale of CIN 1, CIN 2 and CIN 3, which relates to how much of the surface layer of the cervix if affected. Currently, doctors treat ‘moderate’ pre-cancerous lesions, CIN 2, but ignore CIN 1 lesions. Now, CIN 2 lesions are less likely to need treatment.
The British Medical Journal research, which is being treated with caution, suggests that more than half of all untreated cases of CIN2 lesions get better spontaneously within two years, with under one-third persisting and under on-in-five getting worse. For women under 30, the odds are even better, with 60% getting better on their own, 23% persisting and 11% getting worse.
While these results are positive, delaying treatment may still not be ideal even with the higher chance of spontaneous recovery. Professor Maggie Cruickshank, from the University of Aberdeen, wrote in an editorial linked in the BMJ:
‘Knowing that the chance of regression is 50%-60%, still means taking a gamble that surveillance is simply delaying treatment and even a small risk of cancer (0.5% in this study) may still be unacceptable to some.’
However, choosing to have treatment is also a weighty decision. She continued:
‘The effects of local excision, such as pain, bleeding, or menstrual disturbance, time off work, and the possibility of pregnancy complications, including preterm birth and mid-trimester miscarriage are also important considerations in decision-making.’
While some experts are concerned this will deter women from getting smear tests, we think it only stands as more reason to go and get the test. Knowing even moderate lesions may not have to disturb your life in getting treatment, should comfort those who are avoiding out of fear of results. For those still embarrassed or concerned about the pain, the potential of a life-saving diagnosis should surely outweigh two minutes of discomfort.
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