Cervical Cancer Awareness Week

Leonie Millard
Leonie Millard

Published: January 18th, 2021

7 min read

During cervical cancer awareness week, it seems appropriate to highlight the benefits of this screening.

The NHS estimate that if everyone attended screenings regularly 83% of cervial cancer cases could be prevented. Cervical screening currently prevents 70% of cervical cancer deaths. It is offered every three years from age 25 to 49, and every five years from age 50 to 64. It may be more often based on a previous screening result.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer occurs when the cells of the cervix grow in a controlled way and form a lump (known as a tumour). Most cervical cancers are caused by a virus called Human Papillomavirus (HPV). It is spread through skin to skin contact during any type of sexual activity. It can be inert, but there are different types. Only some high-risk types lead to cancer. In most cases they don't cause any symptoms, but sometimes the HPV can cause cells in your cervix to become abnormal.

Are some people at greater risk of getting cervical cancer?

Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer because it makes it harder for the body to get rid of the infection.

Family history of cervical cancer does not affect your chances of developing it.

How can you reduce the risk of getting cervical cancer?

  • Attend regular cervical screenings when invited (every 3 years)
  • Know the symptoms and seek medical advice if you experience any of the symptoms
  • Have the HPV vaccination at aged 11-18

What is cervical cancer screening?

Abnormal cells can develop into cancer if they aren't treated. A sample is taken by a brush from the surface of the cervix. It is tested in the lab for types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. It is not painful and is over in a matter of minutes. To find out more about cervical screening click here.

Symptoms of cervical cancer:

Be vigilant, and if you experience any of the following between regular screenings contact your GP;

  • Bleeding between periods;
  • bleeding during or after sex;
  • bleeding after the menopause;
  • changes to vaginal discharge.

What if you have a positive result?

Abnormal cells create the potential for cancer to develop. Another examination, a colposcopy is offered to examine the cervix more closely. If abnormal cells are found it may be appropriate to remove them. For more information on colposcopy click here.

The four possible results;

  • HPV negative - No further tests required with review in three- or five-years age-dependent
  • HPV positive: no abnormal cells. Screening is offered earlier.
  • HPV positive: abnormal cells found. If there is HPV and any grade of abnormal cervical cells there will be referral for colposcopy.
  • Inadequate result: It was inconclusive, and the patient is required to return for screening in three months' time.

Public Health England have produced a leaflet 'Helping you decide' which goes into more detail about the steps, procedures, and benefits of the screening process.

To find out more about Cervical Cancer, screenings or to get involved with the #smearforsmear campaign click here.

Other useful links:
www.nhs.uk/cervical
www.gov.uk/governmentpublications/cervical-screening-colposcopy

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