With Plymouth cited as one of England’s lowest areas of uptake by the NHS, we look at why screening is so important.
What is Cervical Cancer?
In 99.7% of cases, cervical cancers are caused by persistent high-risk human papilloma virus (HPV) infections. HPV is a common virus transmitted through skin to skin contact in the genital area; with around 80% of sexually active adults picking up an infection at some point in their lives. However, for a majority of women, this doesn’t result in cervical cancer.
During a life course, a woman’s cervix also undergoes many natural changes and, in rare cases, these changes can see the cells lining the cervix become cancerous. Fortunately, cell changes in the cervix can be detected at a very early stage and treatment can reduce the risk of cervical cancer developing.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
Cancer of the cervix often has no symptoms in its early stages. If you do have symptoms, the most common is unusual vaginal bleeding; which can occur after sex, in between periods or after the menopause. Other symptoms of cervical cancer may include pain and discomfort during sex and an unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge. While these symptoms don’t mean you definitely have cervical cancer, they should be investigated by your GP as soon as possible.
As with any cancer, it is best to catch the disease early, making it important to get all potential symptoms checked out.
The Screening Process
Every year, thousands of women between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited to cervical cancer screening appointments across the UK. You will receive a letter in the post, asking you to book an appointment at your doctors surgery – and you can ask to have a female doctor or nurse if you prefer.
One in three women miss their smear test appointment due to embarrassment.
The screening test itself is simple; a small sample of cells from the cervix is collected and checked under a microscope for abnormalities. While some women find the procedure a bit uncomfortable, for most it’s not painful – the key thing to remember is to relax, as the process takes just 5 minutes and could save your life!
Within 2 weeks, you should receive your results from the lab; 95% of results will be normal and for the small percentage that aren’t, the vast majority can be treated very easily and will never develop into cancer.
Despite these statistics, almost half a million young women aged 25-29 did not attend their cervical screening last year.
This year, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s #smearforsmear campaign aims to change this. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is dedicated to cervical cancer in the UK, and during the prevention week, the charity looks to raise recognition of the disease and it’s prevention. With public knowledge and understanding of cervical cancer prevention, causes and treatments generally low, the Cervical Cancer Awareness Week aims to help raise recognition of cervical cancer through a range of initiatives and events throughout the UK.
For support, or to donate please visit www.jostrust.org.uk or phone 0808 802 8000 for more information.