10-16 June 2019 marks Cervical Screening Awareness Week, an important initiative designed to raise awareness of the significance of cervical screening and to encourage women to get checked.
Put ‘cervical cancer’ into Google and it won’t be long before you see Jade Goody’s name crop up. The reality TV star, who shot to fame on the third season of Big Brother, lost her battle with cervical cancer 10 years ago at the age of just 27. Leaving behind two young children, her heartbreaking story was a shocking demonstration of how common cervical cancer is, particularly in young women. As of result, there was a marked increase in the number of smear test attendance, in what became to be known as the “Jade Goody effect”.
However, recent figures suggest the number of women being regularly tested have slowed down, with many citing embarrassment as the reason for their delayed testing.
Every year in the UK, there are around 3,200 new cervical cancer cases detected and tragically, 870 women will lose their battle with the condition, a rate of more than two every day. What’s even more startling, as highlighted by Cancer Research UK’s figures, is that 99.8% of all cases are preventable. This highlights just how important regular screening and early vaccination is.
What is cervical cancer?
The cervix is the small, donut-shaped opening to the uterus, located at the top of the vagina. Cancer of the cervix begins in its outer layers, where tiny changes to the cells, can over time grow out of control. The area where this happens is called the transformation zone, which leads to the endocervical canal, a narrow passageway that leads to the womb. It is this transformation zone that we will check during a cervical screening test. The test itself is not for cancer per se, rather, we are checking for abnormal cervical cells, that may one day develop into cancer. This is why early and regular testing results in high prevention rates.
Who is at risk from cervical cancer?
In short, all women are at risk from cervical cancer, however, prevalence is higher amongst younger, sexually active women. The vast majority (90%) of cervical cancer cases occur when a women has been infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is spread during sexual intercourse. While most HPV infections will pass without the need for treatment, some forms do carrier a higher risk and can cause the cells to stop working properly, leading to the growth of tumours.
What are the symptoms?
Unlike many conditions, cervical cancer carries little in the way of symptoms. As the condition advances, women may experience discomfort during sex, bleeding during or after intercourse, or between periods. The relative lack of symptoms is another reason why screening is so important as early detection of the cancerous cells can help the to prevent its development.
What is the HPV vaccine and what does it do?
The HPV vaccine guards against cervical cancer and genital warts and represents the first effective prevention tool against cervical cancer. The vaccine is normally recommended for girls and young women between the ages of nine and twenty-six and is important for people who are not yet sexually active in order to prevent HPV infection. However, it is also recommended in older groups who may already have become infected.
Cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer in women under thirty-five, as a result, we recommend testing once a year at our clinics. However, it is believed that with HPV vaccination, the risks of cervical cancer and the need for smear tests may be eradicated altogether.
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