This week (24 to 30 January 2016) is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, a European-wide initiative to promote awareness and promote the uptake of screening programmes for early detection of the disease.
Cervical cancer is the 12th most common cancer among females in the UK, accounting for around 2% of all new cases of cancer in females. In 2012, there were 3,044 new cases of cervical cancer and 919 deaths from the disease in the UK. The highest incidence rates occur in women aged between 30 and 34.
Cervical cancer can take many years to develop but, before it develops, changes called 'cervical intraepithelial neoplasia' (CIN) take place in the cells of the cervix. Although CIN is not cancer, some doctors or nurses may describe it as a 'pre-cancerous condition' because, in some cases, if it is not treated early, then there is a risk that it will develop into cancer at a later stage.
Very early-stage cervical cancer may have no symptoms and, consequently, it is important that everyone is aware of the disease, including its symptoms and ways to prevent it. Cervical Cancer Prevention Week provides us with an opportunity to do just that.
Despite the availability of preventative measures such as the HPV vaccine and cervical smears, statistics show that the uptake of cervical screening is now going down year on year. This is concerning because, like most forms of cancer, early detection is crucial as early treatment can improve survival rates.
It is widely known that regular cervical screening is the best way to find early changes to the cells in the cervix. Cervical screening is available for all women between certain ages who are registered with a GP, and are usually invited for screening every three years. During the screening test, cells are taken from the cervix and the cells are then sent to a laboratory to be looked at. Women should then be informed of the test results within two weeks of the test and whether any further treatment or investigation is necessary.
While the screening has proven to be very effective, on rare occasions, cell changes can be missed during the screening process. Therefore, it is also stressed that women seek medical advice, namely from their GP, if any unusual symptoms should develop. The common symptoms of cervical cancer can include:
Naomi Holland, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “We fully support the initiative to raise awareness of cervical cancer and promote understanding of the options for women to take charge of their own health through screening and other prevention programmes. Sadly, we have handled many cases involving late diagnosis of cervical cancer, often where there is a failure to attend for cervical smears or through health professionals having failed to spot the warning signs of the disease.
“Cervical cancer remains one of the most preventable and curable types of cancer, yet we are continuing to see cases where there were unacceptable delays in diagnosing and treating the disease, with devastating consequences.”
For more information, visit Jo's Trust.