From 22-28 January, it’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. Seven days dedicated to promoting awareness of, and ultimately preventing, cervical cancer.
So what do you need to know about it? Here are the facts.
It’s more common than you’d think
Every day in the UK, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. That’s about 3,000 women a YEAR.
It affects younger women
Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women under the age of 35.
It’s not hereditary
Not always anyway. In 99.7% of cases of cervical cancer, it’s caused by persistent infections with a virus called high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) – that’s the one that teenage girls get vaccinated against now. HPV is a common STI, and about four out of five sexually active adults will be infected with some form of HPV in their lives. For most women, it doesn’t result in cervical cancer.
It can be deadly
Every day, three women lose their lives to cervical cancer. That’s 21 a week. Or 1,092 a year. Wives, sisters, girlfriends, mums, grandmothers… Women from all walks of lives are losing their battle, sometimes unnecessarily.
Yes, that’s right – it is preventable. Three quarters of cases of cervical cancer are prevented thanks to cervical screening, or smear tests. The cells lining the surface of the cervix (the opening of the womb) undergo a series of changes over the years, and in some very rare cases these can become cancerous. Cervical screening tests look out for these changes, and can be detected in the very early stages. Yet, one in four women don’t go for a smear when the letter from their GP pops through their door. If you attend regular screening, it’s more likely to get caught in its early stages and it can be treated.
Cervical screening isn’t scary
Yes, it’s a bit uncomfortable – but it could save your life. During a screening, the doctor or nurse will collect a small sample of cells from the cervix which will then be sent away for examination.
An abnormal test result doesn’t mean you have cancer
Most abnormal results are as a result of infection or treatable precancerous cells rather than cancer itself – so don’t be afraid of your results.
There are treatment options
If you do have abnormal cells, often these sort themselves out and you’ll be invited back in six months time to see if anything has changed. Your gynaecologist might decide to treat the cells to stop them from progressing further and potentially developing into cancer. If it has progressed to cancer, you might undergo surgery such as a hysterectomy, or you could receive radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or a combination of the two.
The cervical screening age has gone up in Scotland
Last year, the age at which women were invited to attend a cervical screening test went up from 21 to 25, in line with the rest of the UK. If your test results are normal, you’ll usually get a letter through every three years to go for a screening appointment for women aged 25 to 49, and those aged 50 to 64 every five years.
Support is available
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is a UK-wide charity providing information on cervical cancer and supporting women diagnosed with the disease. Their website is packed with info, but they also have a helpline, online forums, support groups and more. Find out more at www.jostrust.org.uk.