'So many girls don't know what a smear is'
A MOTHER of two who had a cancer scare is calling for the age of cervical screening to be lowered to 20.
Kirsty Shawcross, 29, visited her GP in 2004 after suffering for a year with pain and abnormal bleeding.
Despite her symptoms she was not offered a cervical screening until she reached the age of 25, by which point she had developed an abnormal growth of cells on the surface of her cervix.
Had it remained untreated, it could have progressed to become cervical cancer.
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Miss Shawcross said: "I was in a lot of pain, and losing a lot of blood. It was kind of debilitating at the time.
"I seemed to never get the problem treated, just the symptoms. They advised me to change my contraceptive pill – that was one of the first things they suggested.
"I had to do that for a few months to see if it made a difference, but it didn't. I was also prescribed iron tablets for anaemia."
After a year of trips to the doctor, Miss Shawcross was referred for a smear test.
The Government recommends cervical screening every three years from the age of 25 to 49. A screening with the NHS before that age would only follow a referral from a doctor.
Miss Shawcross said: "When the results eventually came I had to have an operation immediately.
"I had a laser treatment, which is when they remove part of your cervix – the part that has the abnormal cells.
"It appeared they had."
But four years on, Miss Shawcross, who lives in Brentwood, is far from content.
She said: "In the last year I've started having problems that are all too familiar to me.
"Even though I'm over 25 now, I've still found it hard to be recommended for a smear test.
"I'm aware now, that cervical cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer but also one of the most aggressive."
It was while researching her symptoms that Miss Shawcross came across the Mercedes Curnow Foundation, the campaign she has since become involved in.
She said: "Mercedes was only 20 when she started having problems and so, like me, wasn't recommended for a smear test.
"She died of cervical cancer when she was 23.
"I wanted to get involved in the foundation to make people aware of the seriousness of cervical cancer, and to campaign for the recommended age of women to have cervical smears to come down to at least 20, as it is in the USA.
"I started collecting signatures in Brentwood High Street for a petition that Sandra [Mercedes Curnow's mum] is taking to Downing Street, to lower the age of cervical screening to 20.
"I collected 900 and we have 120,000 in total."
Miss Shawcross has been shocked by the lack of knowledge young girls in Brentwood have of cervical cancer, and worries that they are not learning enough about the disease at school.
"It wasn't until I started collecting the signatures that I realised there are so many girls, even in their early twenties, that don't actually know what a cervical smear test is, or know any of the symptoms of cervical cancer – or even what a cervix is.
"It is quite worrying that they could well have the symptoms, and not go to the doctor's about them."
Kirsty hopes to begin visiting schools and colleges around the UK, raising awareness of cervical cancer.
After taking advice from friends, Kirsty has opted to pay for private consultation.
She said: "I had an appointment at the private hospital in Warley two weeks ago and was immediately referred to a gynaecologist. I think going private is really worth the money.
"That's one of the things the Mercedes Foundation does – it pays for young girls, under the age of 25, to have private testing if they can't afford it themselves."