Selfies to beat cervical cancer? It’s happening worldwide as part of the #SmearForSmear campaign from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
Similar to social media campaigns that have swept timelines in the past, #SmearForSmear asks users to smear their lipstick, post the picture to Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, and then nominate their friends to do the same. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a similar web-campaign, raised over $114 million dollars and a mass public awareness for the disease.
Jo’s is hoping to mimic those results – or at the very least remind more women to go get their yearly pap smear. And while it may not be a “sexy” cause, the campaign’s sex appeal may matter less than how much it could stand to help women. Per CDC, 2011 saw over 12,000 women in the United States diagnosed with cervical cancer, with nearly one third that amount resulting in death. But those numbers are actually down when considered in the context of the past 40 years. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, that decline is due in large part to women undergoing regular pap tests, which can detect cervical pre-cancer before it turns into cancer. The survival rate for cervical cancer in early stages? 93%, per 2010 data collected by the National Cancer Data Base.
Despite all of this hopeful news about early detection, smears and cervical screenings are still underutilized. Jo’s estimates that only one in five women actually get their recommended pap. That number rises to one in three among women 25-29, a particularly vulnerable age group considering statistics that show cervical cancer to be most common in women under 35.
A necessary note here - as The Guardian’s Vickie Jamieson points out regarding the campaign and the pap smear process: it’s uncomfortable, to say the least. She asks, “how is it acceptable in 2015 for women to just be told to just get on with something so unbelievably intrusive?” Jamieson and I agree on this point and the idea that it is better to face the discomfort if you can rather than face the possible alternative of cancer, but I would be remiss in advocating for more widespread smearing if I didn’t also point out that the process marginalizes those women who cannot just grin and bear it. I would not, however, go so far as to say women should stop undergoing pap smears all together until it changes.
We’re all hopeful that one day cancer will be a thing of the past. Until then, let’s take full advantage of the ways we can catch it – and, hopefully, beat it – early.