Cervical Cancer and You: The Truth
Thursday 23rd January
Cervical Cancer Prevention Week runs from 19-25 January. This awareness week focuses the healthcare industry on increasing efforts to raise awareness about this life-threatening condition and encourage women to be screened.
Cancer is something which dominates many of our medical discussions, as we’re all heard of it and know how serious it can be. Therefore, it is surprising to think that many people don’t take the simple precautionary methods to protect themselves. That’s why benenden health have developed this guide to Cervical Cancer and You; explaining the key facts and highlighting the importance of regular screening.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a form of cancer which develops in the cervix, the entrance to the womb from the vagina. Cervical cancer is the 12th most common cancer in females in the UK and was responsible for 2% of new female cancer cases in 2010. Overall, there were 2,851 new cases of cervical cancer in 2010, representing 9 new cases for every 100,000 women.
Who can get cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer only affects women but it can occur at any age, and is almost always caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 different types of HPV which are commonly spread during sexual intercourse.
Women who are sexually active, and have been sexually active for a longer period of time, may therefore be at increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
To help prevent cervical cancer, a vaccine against the strains of HPV that cause the disease was developed. This has been made available to girls aged 12 and 13 years old since 2008, and is only effective if administered before girls are sexually active.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
In its early stages, there are very few cervical cancer symptoms, which is why regular screening is so important. One of the common signs of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding, such as after and during sex, in-between periods or after menopause.
Abnormal bleeding can be caused by other conditions however, so is not a guaranteed sign of cervical cancer. If you are concerned then you should always visit your GP.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
Cervical cancer is diagnosed by analysis of cells taken during the screening process, known as a smear test. If abnormal cells are found, then further screening and testing will be completed.
Even if your results show an abnormal cervical smear test, this is not a conclusive sign of cervical cancer. An infection, or precancerous cells would also return abnormal results, and you would be informed of what the next steps would be on receipt of results.
Why is cervical cancer screening important?
The earlier any abnormalities are found, the easier it is to treat them. Screening identifies any abnormalities in the cervix to allow for early detection of developing cancers or infections. This may increase survival rates by ensuring treatment is administered as early as possible.
How often should I attend cervical cancer screenings?
Cervical cancer screening now begins at the age of 25, and women are invited to attend an appointment every 3 years up until the age of 49. The intervals between tests then increase to 5 years between the ages of 50 and 64. As this is the national screening programme offered by the NHS you’ll be notified when you’re due for an appointment, although you can speak to your GP about booking an appointment.
How is cervical cancer treated?
The most common treatment for cervical cancer is surgical removal of the cancerous cells. This can be completed by a number of different procedures including laser therapy, cold coagulation, cryotherapy, diathermy and cone biopsy. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may also be used in the treatment. In some cases, the womb will be removed entirely via hysterectomy but this depends on the nature and spread of the cancerous cells. By attending regular screening tests any abnormalities can be detected as early as possible.
Survival rates of cervical cancer are high when treatment occurs during the early staged of cancerous development. Age-standardised relative survival rates in England during 2005-2009 revealed that 83.6% of women are expected to survive at least one year with 66.6% surviving five years or more.
benenden health can help its members who may have concerns about cervical cancer by providing access to a quick diagnosis through a local approved hospital, should waiting lists offered by the NHS be too long. To see how we helped one member already with cervical cancer, please watch this short video: