‘I was too embarrassed to have a smear test, then I got cervical cancer' - South Shields woman's plea for others to get tested

Gemma was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016.
Gemma was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016.

A South Shields woman is urging others not to put off their smear tests after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Gemma Anderson, 34, is an accounts assistant for a firm of solicitors who lives with her husband in the town.

She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016 after having her first smear test aged 32. Women are currently invited to a smear test at the age of 25.

Gemma said: “I thought the smear test was going to be a lot more than it actually was and I was too embarrassed to go. Friends had said it was nothing but you just think, ‘I can’t take my knickers off in front of a stranger.’

I had no symptoms whatsoever

“My husband and my boss were urging me to go, so I went aged 32. I’d had no symptoms that anything was wrong whatsoever.

Her husband George had been urging her to have a smear test.

Her husband George had been urging her to have a smear test.

“My first thoughts after having the smear test were ‘is that it?’ I’ve been worried about that and it is absolutely nothing.

“I got a call to say I had to go to the hospital for a colposcopy and a biopsy, and I was diagnosed with cancer.

“I was in shock. You think it will never happen to you but it does. It still doesn’t feel real when I think about it – I’ve actually had cancer.

“In September 2016 I had a radical hysterectomy and lymph node removal by keyhole surgery. It is nothing to be embarrassed about

“After my surgery I was told I didn’t need any further treatment as the cancer hadn’t spread and the op was a success, which was a huge relief. I had my first three month check last month and it came back fine.

“I’ve just returned to work and am slowly building my strength back up.

“We hadn’t started a family and cancer has taken that away from us, but as I was able to keep my ovaries we can look at surrogacy when we feel ready. We are also considering adoption.

“To anyone who is putting off surgery: just go. It is nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Read more: Don't let shyness risk your life, says dad of Sunderland woman claimed by cervical cancer

Why your smear test is so important

Women are missing smear tests because they feel too embarrassed about their bodies, according to research by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

From the age of 25, women are invited to have a smear test to detect any cervical abnormalities every three years.

These tests are quick and understood to prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers, but one in four women polled by Jo’s Trust are not taking up their invitation for a smear test.

The charity says this figure rises to one in three among 25 to 29-year-olds.

Concerns over smelling and looking ‘normal’

The poll of women aged between 25 and 35 found almost one third would not go if they had not waxed or shaved their bikini area.

More than a third of the women surveyed said they didn’t get tested because of their body shape, while 34% were worried about the appearance of their vulva. Concerns over smelling “normally” were cited as a factor for 38% of the women polled.

This story originally appeared on our sister title iNews.