The annual legs akimbo hootenanny

The Canberra Times
Australia

BY JENNA PRICE
21 Jun, 2011 04:00 AM

Honestly, it’s not that I minded pap smears all that much, the annual legs akimbo hootenanny at my local doctor.

I’m not at all squeamish about my bits (in fact some readers love to complain that I mention vaginas, penises and sex far too much).

Instead, I felt very empowered by these visits, taking good care to do it once a year. But you couldn’t love it, that poky bit jabbing away at the cervix, making sure it brings out a useful sample.

Despite my regular visits and attention to regularity, somehow one of my results was misinterpreted and I ended up having to have an emergency hysterectomy which left me devastated for months. (Truly, even I ended up having to tell myself to pull myself together. It wasn’t as if I’d ever planned to have more children.) So I was somewhat delighted to read this week Australian researchers are saying young women vaccinated with Gardasil have nearly 40 per cent fewer serious cervical lesions than before the advent of the vaccine; although the research is not quite as solid as you’d like. For it to be perfect, you would have to link each individual’s vaccination status to each individual’s pap smear result as opposed to just looking at the numbers before and after vaccination.

But it looks good and a linked study affirming the result will be even better.

It’s been nearly five years since Gardasil, the vaccine designed to prevent the spread of the human papilloma virus which causes cervical cancer, was made available to the public. Victoria, the Australian state which has the most comprehensive research on Gardasil, says girls in their first year of high school have nearly 80per cent coverage.

Deborah Bateson, medical director of Family Planning NSW and a member of Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia board, says that it is still vital for women to have pap smears. Here, we start them at 18 or two years after becoming sexually active; and then have them at two yearly intervals so long as nothing worrying comes up.

It’s a practice which should be as reliable as toothbrushing (although, thank heavens, not as frequent). And we mustn’t think that because we’ve been vaccinated or our daughters have been vaccinated that there’s no need for the biennial probe. As Bateson says, Gardasil doesn’t protect against all kinds of HPV and it is that nasty little virus which can lead to cervical cancer.

 

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.