Woman told she was 'too young' for a pap smear diagnosed with cervical cancer

Heather Ryan, from County Tipperary in Ireland, took to social media to write about her experience, after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 24, one year before she was eligible for a free pap smear. Photo: Facebook/Heather Ryan

By Sarah Carty, Yahoo Australia

A woman’s heartwrenching Facebook post about the moment she was told she had cervical cancer has gone viral.

Heather Ryan, from County Tipperary in Ireland, took to social media to write about her experience, after she was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 24, one year before she was eligible for a free pap smear test.

“Because I was 24 I was not entitled to a free smear and the early cell changes in my cervix were not picked up,” Heather wrote on Facebook.

“I started bleeding between my periods and bleeding after sex. I went to see my GP and was told to come back when I was 25 for a smear,” she wrote. “I thought that’s fine. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I had cancer.”

However, within three months, the bleeding had become worse and Heather was anaemic.

“I returned to my GP and was referred to a gynecologist. Biopsies were taken and I was then referred to a gynecology oncology specialist and then I was brought into the room. You know the room were people get bad news. With the box of tissues on the table,” she continued.

Heather knew what was coming and sure enough, she was told she had cervical cancer.

“I needed an MRI to see if the cancer had spread from my cervix. The results would decide what treatment I needed,” she explained.

“Fortunately the cancer was confined to my cervix and surgery would be able to remove it. Four weeks after being told I had cancer it was gone. I was lucky so so so lucky to have caught it on time.”

In Ireland, CervicalCheck provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60.

In Australia, in December 2017, the Cervical Screening Test replaced the pap test.

“It feels the same as the Pap test, but tests for the human papillomavirus (known as HPV),” the National Cervical Screen Program website states.

“For most women aged 25 to 74, your first Cervical Screening Test is due two years after your last Pap test. After that, you will only need to have the test every five years if your result is normal.”

If you are below 23-year-old, you should get screened at the age of 25 and if you’re 23 and above, you should get screened two years after your last pap test, according to the website.

“If you have not previously had a Pap test, even if you are sexually active, it is safe to commence screening at 25 years of age,” the website states.

In Australia, in December 2017, the Cervical Screening Test replaced the pap test. Photo: Getty Images

“If you received an abnormal test result for your last Pap or Cervical Screening Test, continue to follow your healthcare provider’s advice.

“If you received an unsatisfactory test result for your last Pap test you should get screened at the age of 25.

The website claims in most cases, there will be a Medicare rebate for the Cervical Screening Test but patients should ask their healthcare provider if they can bulk bill their appointment or if there are any additional costs.

“There may be a fee for your appointment depending on your healthcare provider and the test ordered,” it states.

Heather said it was the most “dramatic and emotionally painful experience” of her life and one she would never wish on anybody else.

“If you’re over 25 please go for your smear tests make time for it. They are so important,” she said.

“I wish I had the opportunity to have caught the cell changes before it became cancerous. If you are under 25 and feel something is not right please go and get it check out with your GP.

“There is nothing to be embarrassed about! It could save your life.”

According to the Cancer Council. the symptoms of cervical cancer are:

  • vaginal bleeding between periods
  • menstrual bleeding that is longer or heavier than usual
  • bleeding after intercourse
  • pain during intercourse
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • excessive tiredness
  • leg pain or swelling
  • low back pain.

In Canada, it’s recommended that sexually active women over the age of 21 get a pap smear every three years.

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