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Cervical Cancer Prevention Week – Have You Been Tested?

Author: Neil Fearn  Bullet  Dated: 16/01/2014

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week begins on the 19thof January, a Europe-wide initiative from the European Cervical Cancer Association (ECCA) to raise awareness highlighting the symptoms, causes, and ways to prevent cervical cancer. It also highlights the importance of support if the disease has affected you.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer affects the opening of the womb – the cervix. There is treatment available to combat abnormal cells in the cervix and actual cervical cancer, but prevention is at the forefront of this campaign. Overall, 2% of all cancers diagnosed in woman are cervical cancers. It is most commonly diagnosed and treated in women below the age of 35. It is possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer although it mainly affects those who are sexually active between 30 and 45.

The best way to catch cervical cancer is to have a cervical screening.

Why Do We Need Cervical Screening?

We need cervical screening because it allows doctors to identify abnormal cells before they even develop into cancer. It can also detect HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), a sexually transmitted virus that can go on to cause cervical cancer. It is a simple test where a doctor or nurse will take a small sample of the cells from your cervix using a soft brush. It is often referred to as a smear test. It used to be conducted with a wooden spatula but it was discovered that this was not the best way to preserve the cells for testing.

Between the ages of 25 to 60, the NHS cervical screening programme will contact you every 3 to 5 years to invite you for a cervical screening. Exact age groups across the UK differ slightly with Scotland and Wales opting for screening between the ages of 20 and 64.

As soon as you are 25, you should take the opportunity of regular screening. Around 20% of women do not take up the invitation of screening either due to misconceptions of the test, or they think they don't need it.

In England, screening starts at 25 despite the number of young women that are dying because of cervical cancer. More needs to be done to ensure that people are aware of the possible symptoms of the disease so they can alert their doctors to the situation. Just because women are not tested below the age of 25, it does not mean that there are not occurrences where women of that age develop cervical cancer. Often, they display symptoms but they are ignored by GP's because of the idea that it is not a 'young women's disease'.

How Reliable is the Test?

There have been stories in the past about cervical screening tests not being properly checked. This is a rare occurrence, however it has led to the deaths of some women.

Often, mistakes occur when:

  • Inadequate treatment is provided at the pre-cancerous stage
  • Not enough tissue is removed, leading to a more invasive cancer
  • Inappropriate treatment
  • Results are wrongly reported – you could be told the test was negative when in fact cell changes are present in your sample

Wherever you are tested, it is important for them to follow national guidelines for diagnosis and treatment, using up to date equipment and approved methods of surgery. If any of these factors are not in place, medical negligence can occur.

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