“Reading the report by Bupa Health Clinics, some results totally shocked me, but on the other hand I felt the same way as the women surveyed.
“There isn’t much I don’t know about my female friends and their lives, but while reflecting recently I discovered that there is a topic we rarely, if ever, discuss; female health. We need to make the topic of female health more accessible to talk about. By educating women on the risks of breast cancer, for example, I think we could have a huge impact on women’s health.”
With my closest female friends, there’s not much I don’t know about their lives. I could order a three-course meal for them, swipe right on guys I know they would date and so far, there’s not been one birthday or Christmas gift that hasn’t gone down well (as far as I know). We talk about everything: family, friends, relationships, sex. But it wasn’t until recently I discovered there is one topic we never discuss: female health.
Why had this never dawned on me before? Arguably one of the most important issues on life’s agenda is one we seem to shy away from! Before my health assessment with Bupa Health Clinics, I decided it was time to confront my friends – speak the unspoken – and I have to say, the results were quite alarming. As someone who has had smear tests since I was twenty-one (I’m now thirty-three), I was literally gobsmacked to learn some of my best friends – women I regard more as sisters than friends – had never been for a cervical screening. Nope, not one. It also turned out that none of us checked our breasts as regularly as we should (and to be honest, I’m pretty sure those times we did, we were just winging it and hoping for the best). Additionally, one of my friends believed you had to be sexually active to have a smear test, however, learned this is not the case! I left the conversation feeling deflated, concerned and quite frankly ashamed by how little we really knew.
Surprisingly, it turns out my friends and I are in the majority. A recent study carried out by Bupa Health Clinics showed a whopping 64% of the female population in the UK are in a same state of confusion we are, which results in many being too embarrassed to go and see a doctor. I openly admit: I’m one of these women. Over the years, I’ve turned to Google instead of speaking face to face with a medical professional. My embarrassment and lack of knowledge led me to putting my health quite literally in the hands of a search engine. For example, a random website told me cranberry juice would cure my urine infection, so I was stocking up at Tesco the next morning (this is another myth, by the way, which the Bupa Health Clinics’ report alerted me to).
In fact, Bupa’s report provided my friends and me with a fountain of knowledge and proved that when it comes to female health, we still have a lot to learn. As it turns out, we’re not alone. In their report, Bupa highlighted the top nine most common myths falsely believed by women from a set list are as follows:
- An abnormal smear test indicates a high risk of cancer
- HPV isn’t transmitted through sexual activity
- Cranberry juice cures urine infections
- You should only have a smear test if you’re sexually active
- Having HPV means you have early signs of cervical cancer
- You can’t get pregnant while on your period
- Only women over 50 will experience the menopause
- Having a urine infection indicates poor hygiene
- Women with large breasts are more at risk of breast cancer than those with smaller breasts
So, let’s talk about the elephant(s) in the room: Why are my friends terrified of smear tests? Why aren’t we discussing these matters with a doctor? Why would we rather resort to Google? In our cases, I can sum it up in one word: fear. Fear of embarrassment by how little we know, fear of the tests themselves or fear of the results. Although the fear stems from different places, it’s all too real and is enough for us to irresponsibly brush our concerns under the carpet and hope for the best. One of my friends is terrified about her results coming back as abnormal which Bupa discovered is a very common fear: a quarter of women believe an abnormal result indicates a high risk of cancer and this is simply untrue. Another one of my friends is in her thirties and has never had a smear test because she’s afraid it’s going to be painful. This I can relate to; I share the same fear. As I sat in the Bupa waiting room on a dreary Thursday morning, all my fears came back because even though I’ve had a fair few smear tests over the years, fear continued to rear its ugly head.
The first part of my female health assessment was rather enjoyable. My height (I’ve been telling the world I’m 5ft5 for years, however I’m 5ft3 and that all important half), weight and waist measurements were taken along with blood and urine samples. Health wise, I’m completely fine but having the opportunity to chat with a health advisor, who has a background in sports science, discussing ways I could improve my lifestyle and fitness was invaluable. After thirty minutes, I was enjoying a massage chair and a cuppa, feeling relaxed, refreshed and still a little bit nervous because I knew the dreaded smear test was to come.
My doctor, Lynsey is an absolute credit to Bupa and I wanted to give her a special mention in this post because she made me feel completely at ease from the moment we met. From my breast examination, I learned I had absolutely no idea how to check my breasts properly because honestly, I’d never been shown how. Did you know you are supposed to feel for abnormalities around your collar bone and breast bone? I didn’t know this, or that you are also supposed to check under your arms. Unsurprisingly, I’m not alone – just 14% of women surveyed by Bupa believed they should be checking around their collar bone for warning signs of breast cancer.
Before my smear test, I was a little nervous, but Lynsey put me at ease as we discussed why women fear cervical screenings. In her professional opinion, she believes it stems from fear of the unknown, a potentially bad experience previously or nerves over the results. She informed me it is due to these reasons, the staff at Bupa Health Clinics strive to ensure each woman has as pleasant an experience as possible. Is it painful? No, not one bit. It was actually comfortable, over in minutes and I left feeling proud. Proud I had taken control of all aspects of my health, proud I had spoken to Lynsey about previous concerns I’d never discussed with anyone and proud my friends and I were finally discussing all areas of female health correctly – no myths being falsely believed. I had no idea a simple female health assessment would have the impact it has.
It’s time to talk and Bupa Health Clinics are on hand! Do you have a question related to female health? Not sure if what you’ve been told or the information you have found is fact or fiction? Bupa GP Dr Samantha Wild is hosting a live Q&A on Facebook on 19th October.
If you are 25 or over and would like to book a female health assessment, Bupa Health Clinics is offering a 20% discount on Female Health Assessments bookings made over the phone in October. T&C apply.
It is so important we all get talking. I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below. Have you learned anything from this post? Do you face the same fear I do every time a smear test is due?
*Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Bupa Health centres, all thoughts and opinions are my own.