With proper screening, cervical cancer is a preventable disease, but of those who die from it this year, only about half will have had a recent pap test.
So why aren’t women getting paps?
Sometimes it’s because they don’t have a medical doctor, but mainly it’s because the process is uncomfortable. It’s easy to put off for another day. And another.
I spent years reminding patients that it was time for a visit to their doc for a “yearly” and many would put it off. I would offer to do the test myself, (ND’s are licensed in Ontario for pelvic and breast exams, and pap tests) but still there would be hesitation.
A year ago I sat down with some of the important women in my life and asked them this question:
What is it about the experience of your annual physical that you hate? Or, to put it more positively, what would you change about this experience that we all have to do, but don’t like to do?
Here are some of the comments I got:
“Do the sheets and gowns have to be paper?”
“Does everything have to be so cold?”
“There is never any easy way to ‘clean up’ and you leave the office feeling uncomfortable and looking for a washroom.”
“I’m worried that in the summer my feet might smell and it’s embarrassing.”
“Why does the light have to be so stark?”
“I wish I could get a copy of the results, not just ‘no news is good news’.”
Is this all that was standing between women and regular paps? Well-armed with some of the reasons why women were opting out or delaying paps, we set about creating a new “Well Woman” annual visit from the ground up.
The Well Women Visit at StoneTree Clinic was created around what patients actually needed and wanted. Your visit takes place in a softly lit room, with real linens and warm socks. All equipment used is warmed and lubricated, and at the end of your examination you receive a cup of hot raspberry leaf tea to soothe the uterus and calm the soul.
You should feel respected and comfortable…or as one woman said, “It’s never fun. But this is definitely as good as it gets!”
Discomfort is a lousy reason to avoid an annual exam. But it’s a reality. Spread the word to the women in your life: screening is important, and there are options to make it easier.