Cervical cancer has been a strong talking point since the premature death of TV personality Jade Goody in 2009. The annual cervical cancer prevention week sees women across the world come together to raise awareness of cervical cancer, and the importance of getting regular smear tests to detect abnormal cells.
This year’s awareness week falls on Monday 12 June to Monday 19 June and will focus on educating women across the UK on cervical cancer and prevention.
What is cervical cancer?
When it comes to cells, smear tests, abnormal results and prevention, it can seem like a bit of a minefield. How old do you even have to be before requesting a smear test? Scotland has recently risen their age for attending a smear test from 20 to 25, with the cut off age also increased from 60 to 64 – but what does it all mean?
Research shows that more than one in four women fail to book in for a smear test. Cervical cancer affects 3,000 women in the UK every year and is one of the most common cancers amongst women aged under 35.
The most common cause of cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus, or HPW. People have probably thrown the word HPV around a lot in your lifetime – you may have even had the HPV jag, but it is extremely common with many sexually active adults to be infected with some form of HPV, according to Jo’s Trust. HPV is commonly spread through skin-to-skin contact.
Having HPV, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you will get cancer – the cancer is extremely rare but something women should be vigilant about, so screening is really important.
Symptoms of cervical cancer are good to know and are easy to spot:
- Abnormal bleeding, during or after sexual intercourse, or between periods.
- Post menopausal bleeding. This is specifically targeted at women who are no on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or have stopped it for six weeks or more.
- Unusual vaginal discharge.
- Lower back pain.
- Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse.
Experiencing any of these symptoms means you should get in touch with your GP immediately.
Book your appointment
Symptoms or not, getting regular smear tests is important. Smear tests do not detect cancer; rather, it finds abnormal cells, which could indicate the presence of cancer cells – making it an important test to take.
Of the 5 million women each year invited for a smear test, around 90% of these tests will come back clear. When abnormal cells are found it does not automatically mean you have cervical cancer – some abnormalities clear up themselves over time or you may be asked to come in for smear tests more regularly.
Booking an appointment with your GP, practice nurse or sexual health clinic is important. Smear tests take around five minutes and the worst part is the initial embarrassment.
For more information on cervical cancer or to get involved in raising awareness visit Jo’s Trust.