smear test

Smear tests, like so many other ‘routine’ checks and treatments, have been somewhat swept under the carpet over the past year. Of course, it’s understandable, given the wider context of a global pandemic, but should we take this to mean that smear tests don’t really matter?

Short answer: NO

Without wanting to resort to hyperbole, smear tests can quite literally save lives. Cervical cancer is practically symptomless in the early stages, which means by the time it is picked up it can often be too late.

Doctors recommend at least one smear test every three years for women aged between 25 and 49. This means that any abnormalities can be detected before you start to show symptoms, so treatment can commence early.

How common is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, and is most common among sexually active women aged between 25 and 49. If diagnosed early, it is also one of the most treatable cancers. This is why regular smear tests are so important.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

As mentioned above, in the very early stages there are no symptoms. But as the cancer gets more advanced, symptoms can include irregular bleeding, often before or after intercourse. Also, pain during intercourse, vaginal discharge and pelvic pain.

All these symptoms can also be linked to a number of other conditions, so screening is vital to rule out cervical cancer. Screening within a gynaecology-specific environment will speed up the process of diagnosing the root cause.

What causes cervical cancer?

In 99% of cases, cervical cancer is linked to infection with HPV, an extremely common sexually transmitted disease.

Can I get a smear test during lockdown?

Officially, smear tests should still be happening during lockdown. But the reality is that within the NHS, routine screening tests are being subjected to delays and cancellations.

You can, however, book to have a smear test performed privately. Here at Surescan, we offer a combined smear test and HPV screening, to provide added peace of mind.

We are also a specialist centre for women’s health and fertility issues. If you are seeking a smear test because you are experiencing symptoms associated with cancer of the cervix, we are able to investigate other causes of your symptoms. We can hopefully come up with a diagnosis that can offer you some relief.

If you would like to find out more about our cervical cancer screening programme, or to book an appointment, please contact us.

sleep and fertility

We all know the value of a good night’s sleep. Particularly in these trying times, a full eight hours can be the difference between a bearable day and one where you’re fighting to keep your head above water.

But did you know that sleep can also have an impact on your fertility?

Sleep and hormones

Sleep is essential for our body and brain to refresh and replenish themselves and, among other things, to regulate our hormones.

Hormones are useful for all sorts of things. They help us to grow, to regulate our metabolism, control our moods and have many other essential functions. But perhaps their most famous role, particularly in women, is in the reproductive system.

When we lose sleep, for whatever reason, this can affect hormone production, including those which are responsible for fertility. In fact, it is the same part of the brain that regulates the sleep/wake function, which releases our daily dose of reproductive hormones.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that one or two bad nights’ sleep will render you infertile, but in the long term, lack of sleep could certainly increase your chances of needing to seek help with your fertility.

What causes a lack of sleep?

It’s well known that there is a strong link between insomnia and stress. And sadly, it works both ways, resulting in something of a catch-22: the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to have difficulty sleeping, but the less sleep you are getting, the more stressed you are likely to be.

But stress isn’t the only thing that leads to insomnia. Fresh air and exercise are known to help us get a good night’s sleep. So it stands to reason that a lack of either could start to take its toll.

Screens are also prime culprits when it comes to difficulty sleeping. The light emitting from TVs, phones, computers etc. can decrease production of melanin – the hormone we need for sleep. So looking at screens late at night should be avoided if you want to get a full night’s sleep.

All starting to sound a bit familiar?

Yes, we know: stress, a lack of fresh air and exercise, late-night screen use – these are all things that are near-enough unavoidable during lockdown. Even if you are managing to get out for a run every day, the likelihood is you’re not spending nearly so much time outside as you would normally.

And using your laptop into the small hours is essential if you’re working from home and having to fit your job around everything else in your life.

If you are worried that a lack of sleep might be affecting your fertility and would like to talk it through, we can help. The chances are that there isn’t a problem, but if you are really worried, why not book in for our Fertility MOT to put your mind at rest? For more information, get in touch with us.

Lockdown and Women's Health

In a recent Guardian article, Baroness Tanni Grey Thomson raised the issue of the unprecedented pressure on women’s health caused by the latest lockdown.

Teaming up with Kate Dale, the campaign lead for This Girl Can, Grey Thomson was mainly focusing on the loss of exercise. But are there other ways that female health has been affected by lockdown?

Mental and emotional wellbeing

It was this issue that was addressed in the Guardian. Grey Thomson argued that over the course of three lockdowns, women have taken on more responsibility than ever. Furthermore, they had even less time to address their own needs.

A considerable number of men have of course stepped up and taken on their fair share of parental responsibilities. But the figures show that on the whole it is women who have shouldered the burden of homeschooling. This, alongside the normal household obligations of washing, cooking and cleaning, often whilst also trying to hold down a job.

For many, this has meant working from early in the morning until late into the night to get everything done. This leaves little time for exercise, which can be key to maintaining our physical, and our mental health.

“Women are facing unprecedented pressure on their health due to lockdown, not least when trying to stay active,” she said. “There should be serious concern about the impact of lockdown on our overall wellbeing, particularly without the same opportunities to stay active for our mental and physical health.”

Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of life, and lack of it can have a far-reaching impact. So although this does of course link in with our mental wellbeing, we thought it warranted a section all of its own.

The lockdown is affecting women’s sleep in a number of different ways. Most commonly, women are having to reduce their sleeping hours in order to fulfil all their professional, household and parental obligations. It’s just not possible to fit a full-time job as well as six hours of homeschooling into a sixteen-hour day. Even less when you factor in time for meals, washing, cleaning and all the myriad daily tasks that so often go unseen.

But then there’s all the hours of sleep lost because of anxiety. Worries about Covid, about our children’s mental health, or about how to achieve everything we need to do the next day.

More urgent health issues

Lack of exercise is absolutely a major concern for women in lockdown. But the pandemic has also raised some rather alarming issues around more serious diagnoses.

As the NHS has been forced to shut down all but the most urgent of non-Covid treatments, women are missing out on ‘routine’ checks such as smear tests and mammograms. And while in many cases this doesn’t cause an issue, sadly for some it means that what could have been an early diagnosis has been lost.

Surescan is still open and offering smear tests, ovarian cancer screening and other diagnostic tests, so if you are concerned about the impact lockdown is having on your health, we are here to help. Please contact us to find out more.

talk about periods

Supermodel Natalia Vodianova might be best known for her work on the catwalk, but she’s also a passionate advocate for human rights. She has now been named by the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA as its latest Goodwill Ambassador.

Ms Vodianova’s aim in the role is to ‘culturally redefine menstruation’ as a normal bodily function. And she wants to remove the taboo that surrounds it within many cultures.

Why talk about periods?

In Western society, raising awareness of periods might seem unnecessary. That’s because on the whole we are already aware that they are a natural part of life. Most of us just accept that it happens, we have access to sanitary items and our life can continue as normal.

In many countries around the world, however, this simply is not the case. According to the UNFPA (officially known as the UN Population Fund), in some countries there are taboos surrounding the issue. This can leave women and girls very vulnerable and can even be life threatening. They can be excluded from public life and denied sanitation and basic health needs.

Making the change

It’s no simple matter to reverse centuries of tradition, as obvious as it may seem that those traditions are harmful to women.

In fact it could easily be argued that we still have a long way to go in this country. We may not be forced to remove ourselves from society when we are on our period. But there are instances of diagnoses being missed because women are reluctant to discuss menstruation.

So how does Ms Vodianova plan to address the issue? Well she’s already made a start. Over the past three years, she has teamed up with the UNFPA to chair a series of ‘Let’s Talk’ events. These aim to target policy makers as well as civil society and the private sector, worldwide. She wants to help tackle the shame and discrimination faced routinely by millions of women and girls around the world.

Why a supermodel?

UN goodwill ambassadors are often celebrities, as a recognisable face can garner more attention than an unknown. But Natalia Vodianova has a particular personal interest in human rights, and especially women’s rights.

Brought up in poverty in Russia by a single mother, Vodianova also helped care for her half sister, who has cerebral palsy and autism. This start in life has given her a unique insight into the struggles faced by women in poverty. She is now keen to use some of her fame and fortune to help make life a little bit easier for others.

Speaking about her appointment, Vodianova has said:

“As UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador, I will stand up for women and girls everywhere. I won’t stop speaking up about what I know is right until we are able to raise the standard for women’s health around the world.”

Perimenopausal

Once you reach a certain age, it is tempting to see everything as a sign that you are perimenopausal. But what are the signs you should really be looking out for?

Changes to your menstrual cycle

It might seem obvious, but changes to the frequency or duration of your period is often the first sign that something is afoot.

Some women find their periods get much heavier as they approach the menopause, others get lighter. Some get their period every two or three weeks, some will go months without bleeding at all, then bleed non-stop for a fortnight.

Really, any change at all in your menstrual cycle is a sign that something is going on inside. However, these things can also be a symptom of other gynaecological conditions. So it is important to consult with a doctor, who will be able to confirm whether the changes you are seeing are due to perimenopause or something else.

Hot flushes

Aside from changes to your period, hot flushes are probably the most widely known symptom of perimenopause.

A hot flush is often described as a sudden overwhelming feeling of heat that seems to come from nowhere. They are usually short in duration, and for some women they occur infrequently and don’t cause much of a problem. Others might have several hot flushes a day and find them inconvenient and embarrassing.

There are a few things that are thought to increase the frequency of hot flushes, including:

  • spicy food
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • smoking

Insomnia

Perimenopausal women often have difficulty sleeping. They either struggle to get to sleep at the beginning of the night, or wake up during the night.

Over a prolonged period this lack of sleep can have a cumulative effect, impacting on your mood during the day. It can exacerbate another symptom of perimenopause…

Mood swings

Every woman knows that anything which affects your hormones is also going to have an effect on your mood. Perimenopause is no different.

Many women report feeling very low in mood or experiencing increased anxiety during the perimenopause period. Others find that their mood will change dramatically for seemingly no reason.

If you are experiencing mood changes, it is important to be kind to yourself and keep a watch on your mood. If at any point you feel the mood swings are getting out of hand, or you feel like you are becoming depressed, get in touch with a doctor, who should be able to help.

Recurrent UTIs

A lesser-known symptom of perimenopause, urinary tract infections can be very unpleasant and painful. They are thought to occur more during menopause as your oestrogen levels drop dramatically, increasing muscular pressure around your urethra.

Symptoms of UTIs include:

  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Needing to urinate more frequently or with more urgency
  • Blood in your urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • A high temperature

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it might be worth investigating whether you are perimenopausal.

Here at SureScan, we provide a full menopause healthcheck to help your path through the menopause run that much smoother. For more information, please contact us.

Covid and fertility

There is no doubt that for many of us the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is wonderful news. Bringing us that much closer to a time when we can get together again with friends and family. But there are people who do have some concerns.

Fertility matters

When you are trying for a baby, it is natural to be extra careful about what you are putting into your body. In recent weeks, there have been some rumours spreading on social media that the Covid-19 vaccine could affect fertility. Some posts have even gone so far as to suggest that the jab could cause recipients to become infertile.

Here at SureScan, fertility treatment forms a large part of our service. We take a great interest in anything that could have an impact on fertility. With that in mind, we decided to investigate these claims a little further. So, could the Covid jab really affect fertility?

‘No evidence’

The rumours surrounding the Covid vaccine and infertility have not just affected members of the general public. Even healthcare workers have been put off having the jab.

In January, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) issued a joint statement to dispel these rumours. They confirmed that there is ‘no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 vaccines will affect fertility’.

And whilst it’s true that a lack of evidence does not mean it’s an impossibility, Dr Edward Morris, president of the RCOG, went on to reassure the public that there is ‘no biologically plausible mechanism by which current vaccines would cause any impact on women’s fertility’.

Covid-19 and fertility

Not only will having the jab not affect your chances of having a baby, there is a growing body of evidence to show that the pandemic is impacting the efficacy of fertility treatment. So it could be argued that the sooner we roll the vaccine out, the sooner couples can begin to get the help they need to conceive.

Fertility treatment in the UK stopped altogether between March and May 2020, and has been operating on a reduced service since. A recent study from Aberdeen University shows that these delays is having a disproportionate impact on women aged 40 plus.

The study looked at the impact of delays in the onset of fertility treatment of six months or twelve months. Women in five age categories, from under 30 to 40-42, were affected in some way. However, the biggest impact was seen in the 40-42 category. Here there was estimated to be an 11.8% reduction in live births after a six-month delay, and a 22.4% reduction if the treatment was delayed by a year.

The authors of the study have said that they hope the results will inform a phased reintroduction of IVF in the NHS. And women aged 40 plus would get priority.

For more information about fertility treatment, please contact us on 0121 308 7774.

Fertility check

There are many different reasons for seeking a fertility check. It may be that you have been trying for a baby and are worried that it is taking too long. Or perhaps you just want reassurance about your fertility status for future reference.

In this post, we will be looking at what a fertility check is. As well as when is the right time to have one, depending on your reasons for doing so.

What is a fertility check?

Here at SureScan, a fertility check for women gives you a complete overview of your fertility health, including:

  • A 30-minute consultation with a consultant gynaecologist, to discuss any concerns you have, as well as lifestyle factors that affect your fertility
  • Examination of the abdomen and pelvis
  • Blood tests to check hormone levels and test thyroid function
  • Ultrasound scans to perform an antral follicle count and examine pelvic anatomy

When is the best time to seek a fertility check?

That depends on your reasons for doing so. If you are not planning a family yet, but would like to know more about your fertility in order to plan for the future, then this can be performed at any age. However, if you are considering egg freezing, we would recommend having a fertility check between the ages of 30 and 42. Egg production does tend to decline fairly rapidly post 40.

What if you are trying for a baby?

If you are trying to start a family, it can often be tempting to seek help straight away. The period between each ovulation can seem very long, and it might feel like you have been trying for a long time without success.

You can of course seek a fertility check at the start of the process, to put your mind at rest. Fertility experts generally recommend trying to conceive naturally for at least a year before seeking help. That time can be reduced to six months if you are over the age of 35.

What other reasons are there for having a fertility check?

A fertility health check is not only useful for checking your ovarian reserves. It can also help to diagnose any health problems around the reproductive organs, such as ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, or endometriosis.

If indicated, the check can also include a cervical smear, or screening for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Is the check only available for women?

No, we can also provide semen analysis for your partner, if required.

Here at SureScan, we aim to provide a complete service, ensuring that we are able to diagnose any fertility problems, whether they be physical or emotional. To find out more about this service, or to book an appointment, please contact us.

Birthing Partners

Pregnant women will welcome new guidance from NHS England, released in December. There is a change in the COVID-19 restrictions that have prevented birthing partners from attending any pre-natal appointments.

What are the current restrictions?

Since March, depending on the NHS trust, partners have been unable to accompany expectant mothers to maternity appointments. This includes scans, blood tests and early labour, as part of an effort to prevent the spread of COVID.

Many women have received news of miscarriage or foetal abnormality without a partner there to support them. In some NHS trusts, partners are not allowed to attend labour until the cervix is 4-5cm dilated. This has resulted in them missing the birth entirely.

Even in cases where the partner has been present for the labour, they are asked to leave as soon as the baby is born, which many new mothers report to be a very traumatic experience.

What is the new guidance for maternity care?

The new guidance issued by NHS England states that partners should now be allowed to be present for all maternal care. From antenatal appointments right through to labour and the postnatal period.

Before this happens, hospitals will need to have carried out thorough risk assessments to ensure that wards are COVID-secure.

This new guidance comes after months of tireless campaigning from various maternity support groups. They claim many mothers have been left traumatised after receiving devastating news or birthing alone.

How quickly will this guidance be implemented?

Whilst the guidance has been issued to all NHS trusts, it is unlikely to be actioned immediately. Steps to protect staff and patients from contracting COVID could take a while to put in place.

According to the new guidance, these steps include:

  • Conducting risk assessments throughout the hospital’s entire maternity service to find out where the presence of partners may increase the risk of COVID transmission
  • Reconfiguring space to make it more COVID-secure
  • Using rapid testing to prevent COVID from being carried onto wards

It is likely that some hospitals will say they are unable to put all these measures into place and so cannot implement the new guidelines.

What does this mean for me?

Are you pregnant, or hoping to become pregnant soon? It is advisable to check with your NHS trust if or when this new guidance is likely to become a reality for you.

If you are one of the lucky ones, you and your partner will need to be extra vigilant for signs of COVID. Also be prepared for appointments to take longer than usual. Rapid testing will need to be carried out and other precautions put in place beforehand.

While there may be some caveats, this new guidance will come as a relief to many expectant mothers in the UK and is welcomed by many maternity care providers.

HRT for IBS

The menopause has an impact on almost every aspect of your body, or so it can seem. Many of us may eagerly anticipate the end of menstruation. But the actual process of menopause can be both drawn-out and painful.

Many women report an increase in the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) during the perimenopause phase. This includes those who had not previously experienced bowel problems.

Could hormone replacement therapy during the menopause provide some relief for these women? Especially those who suffer from worsening symptoms of IBS?

Hormones and the menopause

Whilst many scientific studies have found a correlative link between menopause and worsening IBS, a firm reason for this link has yet to be found.

Research into the effects of menstruation on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has suggested that hormonal fluctuations can affect symptoms. This would explain why women often experience an increase in abdominal pain and bowel movements around the time of their period.

During the menopause, hormonal fluctuations are ever present, so it seems likely that this could be a reason for worsening IBS.

HRT and inflammatory bowel disease

One 2008 study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, took a retrospective look at medical records of 65 postmenopausal women. All the women had inflammatory bowel disease – 45 with Crohn’s disease and 25 with ulcerative colitis.

For each woman, disease activity in the five years before the menopause was compared with the five years after menopause had finished. 20 of the women had been using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during the postmenopausal period.

The study found that those women using HRT were 82% less likely to have active IBD symptoms post menopause.

However, studies into irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and HRT use have shown a potential increase in symptoms associated with the hormone therapy. Researchers from the 2008 study acknowledged that a larger trial was needed to confirm their findings.

What to do if you suffer from IBS and are approaching the menopause

If you suffer from IBS or IBD and think you might be perimenopausal, your best first step is to speak to your doctor about how the menopause might affect your condition.

The jury is currently out on whether HRT use could help or hinder bowel conditions. A doctor is unlikely to prescribe hormone therapy as a tool for treating IBS. However they will almost certainly take your condition into account when considering HRT.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some women do experience relief from the symptoms of IBS or IBD when undergoing hormone replacement therapy during the menopause. But as with any treatment, no two patients will have exactly the same experience.

Cervical screening

This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, and this year cervical screening is as important as ever. SureScan Women’s Health Clinic is joining others to support #SmearforSmear, this year’s social media campaign led by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

We want to remind women that we are here for you with information and support, particularly at this difficult time. Although the Coronavirus has made it difficult for many to attend medical appointments in the normal way, our cervical smears are still going ahead.

We know that it can be a daunting thought, but smear tests are still the best protection against Cervical Cancer.

Why should I have a smear test?

A Cervical Screening can provide much needed reassurance, particularly if you are experiencing symptoms such as vaginal bleeding, vaginal discharge or discomfort during sex.

Early detection and treatment can help prevent the majority of cervical cancers from developing. However, lots of people are unsure if they can or should go for a cervical smear appointment.

The government guidance says that you are allowed to go for a medical appointment, even within the current restrictions across the UK. However, there are a number of reasons why you should not have a cervical smear, which include;

  • If you are on your period
  • Experiencing vaginal bleeding
  • You have had an IUD inserted or removed within the past 3 months
  • If you have had a smear test within the past 12 weeks
  • You are pregnant or think you may be
  • You have given birth, miscarried or had a termination within the past 3 months

Do I need an HPV Test?

Sometimes, an abnormal smear test can be the result of a very common sexually transmitted disease called Human Papillomavirus or HPV. Estimates show that about 14 million new HPV infections occur every year.

Most people who have HPV never experience any problems, and many cases go away without treatment. But some strains of the virus can cause problems such as genital warts or cancer.

If you would like to speak to a specialist in confidence about HPV or cervical cancer or would like to arrange a cervical screening, phone us on 07835 736627 or email us info@​surescan-womenshealth.co.uk .