In the UK, there are around 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer every year, or 9 every day. If diagnosed at an early stage, there is a high chance that it can be cured. Thousands of cases of cervical cancer are prevented every year due do screening – yet millions of women across the country are still skipping their smear tests. Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, which takes place 20-26 January, helps to shed a light on the importance of routine checks.
Cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer in women under thirty-five, with thousands of women in the UK diagnosed with the disease each year. Cervical cancer however is highly preventable, with the recent introduction of HPV vaccination programmes hoping to cut the number of cases down even further. This has caused something of a revolution in the medical world as it provides the first effective prevention against cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine is available on the NHS but only for girls and only within a very limited age group.
Unfortunately, HPV (the Human Papilloma Virus) is both very infectious and very harmful – in 1983, German virologist Harold zur Hausen discovered that HPV causes cervical cancer. Since then it has been established that testing for the presence of HPV offers a better screening test for cervical cancer than the “Pap” test (or “Pap” smear, as it’s commonly known in the US).
The “Pap” test – which gets its name from Dr George Papanicolaou, who invented it in the 1920s alongside Dr. Aurel Babeș, is a procedure that uses a small brush or spatula to gently remove cells from the cervix so they can be examined under a microscope for cervical cancer or cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. It is not a test for cancer but to pick up its early signs.
Looking out for symptoms
Cervical cancer is caused when abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina) grow in an uncontrolled way.
It often has no symptoms in its early stages.
If symptoms do occur, the most common tend to be unusual vaginal bleeding, which can occur during/after sex, in between periods or after the menopause.
Abnormal bleeding doesn't mean that you definitely have cervical cancer, but it’s worth having it investigated by a doctor so they can determine the cause.
The HPV test
In England, the Cervical Screening Test it is offered to women aged 25 to 49 every three years and those aged 50 to 64 every five years.
Though a similar procedure to a Pap smear test, it is designed to look for HPV infection (using the sample of cells taken from the cervix).
A centralised NHS cervical screening programme has existed in the UK since 1988, but HPV screening has only recently been introduced in England and Wales – and is yet to be rolled out across Scotland and Ireland.
There was a review to lower the age at which cervical screening test is offered to women in the UK, following the publicity surrounding the death of reality television star Jade Goody from cervical cancer in 2009. Evidence however suggested that it was not as effective in women under 25 years old, as it’s still common to have changes in the cells of your cervix when you’re younger.
The importance of routine health checks.
More than 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK; and according to charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, around 99.7% of all cases are caused by high-risk HPV. Nearly 900 women die from the disease annually.
Figures, however, show that millions of women are skipping their smear tests.
In fact, a survey by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust of more than 2,000 women in the UK revealed this figure to be 1 in 4 women – rising to 1 in 3 among those aged 25 to 29.
Embarrassment about body shape is constantly cited as a reason why many choose to avoid smear tests, while a lack of understanding about the importance of screening still permeates.
Cervical smears to test for cancer, however, are an effective screening programme if they are carried out frequently enough.
In most countries apart from the UK however, the recommended frequency of testing is once per year, and that is what we recommend in our clinics.
Come talk to us
At Doctorcall, we offer routine health checks for women in our private clinics on Harley Street in London, and St Ann’s Square, Manchester, where we have advanced on-site facilities for testing and diagnosis to give prompt results.
Embarrassment should never, ever get in the way, and our experienced doctors will always be at hand to make sure that your visit is as comfortable as possible and so you are fully aware of what the procedure will involve from start to finish.
We can also provide advice on the choice of HPV treatment. It is believed that with HPV vaccination the risks of cervical cancer and the need for smear tests may be eradicated altogether.
To find out more about our Well-Woman Screen service or if you want to know more about cervical smear tests or HPV Vaccination visit www.doctorcall.co.uk or call us on 0344 257 0345.