Following the huge media storm that surrounded the premature death of Jade Goody from cervical cancer, aged just 27, doctors reported a huge rise in the number of people going for cervical screening. A routine HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine was also introduced for girls aged 12-13 to protect against the most common cause of cervical cancer.
New NHS figures show a worrying drop in the number of women attending their screening appointments. One in three women admit to missing appointments – so putting themselves at risk from a largely preventable disease.
Around 1,000 women die from cervical cancer each year, with nearly 3,000 new cases diagnosed every year. It’s the most common cancer in women aged 20-29 and the second most common cancer in women under 35 (after breast cancer). Yet many people who suffer from the disease don’t know what symptoms to look out for.
The most common symptoms include abnormal bleeding during or after sexual intercourse, abnormal bleeding between periods, post menopausal bleeding if you are not on HRT or have stopped it for six weeks, unusual and/or unpleasant vaginal discharge, discomfort or pain during sex and lower back pain. Many of these symptoms are mistaken for other health problems or brushed aside as something minor. However, if you suffer from any of these things, contact your GP for help and advice as it could be pointing to something more serious.
It’s also important to remember that, in many cases, cervical cancer has no symptoms. So women should never ignore the need to go for regular check-ups. To reduce the number of women who develop the disease, the NHS has a cervical screening programme for women aged 25-64. The examination is free and only takes a few minutes. It is carried out by GPs and practice nurses.
Women aged 25-49 are invited for screening every three years. Women aged 50-64 are invited every five years. Make sure that you’re registered with a GP who has your current address on file so that you don’t miss your re-call appointment.
The simple screening test is designed to detect abnormalities in cells of the cervix at an early stage. One in twenty women will show some changes in the cells – this doesn’t mean that they have cervical cancer; just that they may need to be observed on a more regular basis or receive treatment to prevent the cells becoming a problem later. This simple screening is helping to save around 4,500 women’s lives every year.
Here’s a pick of the top tips when it comes to preventing cervical cancer:
• Attend your cervical screening appointments on a regular basis. Make sure that you know how often you should be going and that your doctor has the correct contact details on file.
• Don’t smoke. NHS advice suggests that you can lower your chances of getting cervical cancer by not smoking as smokers are less able to get rid of the HPV infection from the body.
• Get vaccinated against HPV. Make sure you or your daughters have been vaccinated against HPV if you’re eligible.
• Don’t ignore any changes to your body. Speak to your doctor about anything unusual even if you think that maybe it’s nothing to worry about.
• Speak to your GP surgery if you’re unsure what symptoms you should be looking out for.
• Finally, don’t be embarrassed to ask for advice. A few weeks or months could make all the difference when it comes to cervical cancer.
For more information about the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, visit http://www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/cervical/index.html. For information and support about cervical cancer, visit http://www.jostrust.org.uk/.