I’ve just been for a mammogram this afternoon – nothing’s wrong, it’s just part of a general programme of three-yearly breast-screening we have here in the UK for women over 50. It’s not a very comfortable process, but for me it’s definitely worth a few minutes of discomfort to be sure that nothing untoward is lurking within. This was actually my second breast-screening appointment – I had my first aged 49 – so at least I knew what to expect this time around.
I must admit there’s nothing remotely dignified in standing, stripped from the waist up, having your breasts squashed uncomfortably flat one at a time in two different positions (up and down and then side to side) in a vice-like machine, especially as you have to stand completely still with your body twisted at the oddest of ungainly angles while the images are taken, but in my book prevention is always better than cure wherever possible.
I always have regular cervical smear tests too – I have done since my children were born over thirty years ago – and again there’s nothing dignified about lying on a treatment bed stripped from the waist down, legs akimbo, with your nether regions spotlighted and exposed to the yawning jaws of a speculum and swizzle-stick. But for me, any potential embarrassment is easily over-ridden by the importance of checking for any significant abnormalities that may help lead to early detection of cancer.
In Scotland, my understanding from friends and family is that everyone over 50 is offered screening for bowel cancer too, which simply requires sending off a sample of poo in a pot from the privacy of your own home, so you don’t even have to go anywhere to do that.
Checking our most intimate private parts or discussing issues to do with basic bodily functions is not generally something we Brits are very good at, but whether it’s women being screened for breast or cervical cancer, men being checked for testicular or prostate problems, or older adults being screened for bowel cancer, we’re lucky here in the UK that we have not only the medical knowledge and technology to do so but also a National Health Service that ensures equal parity of care whatever our level of income – our NHS may indeed have its faults, but favouring rich people over the poorest in our society is not one of them.
So if you are offered an age-related health-screening check as part of an ongoing programme, please do think about taking it up, however uncomfortable the thought of it might make you feel – and you never know, one day it may even save your life 🙂