We often hear of cases where people’s symptoms are dismissed by doctors as something minor when in fact they’re signs of something life-threatening. This is one of those cases that sadly wasn’t rectified in time.
In the United Kingdom, the minimum age that women begin receiving Pap smears, which screen for a wide host of diseases and disorders, is 25. Unfortunately for 21-year-old Jade Pateman, that was five years too late to save her from terminal cervical cancer.
She had just given birth to her son, Oscar, two years earlier, in 2013, but in the beginning of 2015, she began experiencing swelling in her cervix. Her doctors put her on antibiotics and ran a host of tests on her to discover the reason for the swelling. Soon enough, they found she had a 2-inch-long tumor on her cervix, which they believed had been growing since the end of 2014. Needless to say, Pateman was devastated by the diagnosis, especially when she learned she may have only 18 months to two years left with her son.
Cervical cancer is not always a death sentence, but it is when it goes undetected by doctors. Even though Pateman was old enough to give birth, according to the Advisory Committee on Cervical Cancer Screening in the United Kingdom, she was too young to receive a Pap smear, which might have saved her life.
According to a spokeswoman for Public Health England, such screenings on women younger than 25 are unnecessary and potentially harmful.
“Women below the age of 25 often undergo natural and harmless changes in the cervix that screening would identify as cervical abnormalities. Despite this, cervical cancer is very rare in this age group. In most cases these abnormalities resolve themselves without any need for treatment. Research has shown if women suffer unnecessary treatment, this could have an adverse effect on their future childbearing.”
This sounds totally absurd to me, especially considering how many women under 25 are sexually active. I believe if you’re old enough to have sex, you’re old enough to be screened for potentially life-threatening illnesses that can result from having sex or from genetic predispositions. Advising women against such screenings is irresponsible and has actually led to a 60 percent increase in the number of cervical cancer cases in the U.K. in women under 35 since 2005.
As such, Pateman has launched a petition on Change.org to change the minimum age for screenings from 25 back to 20. While cervical cancer is rare in women under 25, it is still quite possible, and because you don’t often show any symptoms until the cancer is far along, early detection is the key to stopping it.
Despite her shortened life expectancy and the chemotherapy she must now endure, Pateman is trying to remain positive for her son. “My little one is what keeps me going. I don’t want to mope around, because Oscar might pick up that something is wrong with Mom. I want to go out and create memories for me and his memory box.”
If the National Health Service believes adolescent girls ages 12 and 13 should have the HPV vaccine, recommending against Pap smears before age 25 is hypocritical. If you have any of the telltale signs of cervical cancer — bleeding between periods or after intercourse, pain during intercourse or during/after urination — you have every right to ask for an internal examination.