January 21st – 27th is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week
There is no way to completely prevent cervical cancer, although you can help to reduce your risk. By increasing awareness of cervical screening and encouraging vaccination against HPV, the Cervical Cancer Prevention Week campaign is encouraging women to reduce their cervical cancer risk.
Every year, over 3,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer, that is around 9 women diagnosed each day.
Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are more than 100 strains of HPV, many of which are harmless, however, strains HPV 16 and HPV 18 are known to cause most cases of cervical cancer. HPV infection causes damage to the cells in the cervix, causing them to multiply abnormally and at a faster rate than usual, which can then lead to cancer.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
Cervical cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages. If symptoms are present the most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding, which can occur during or after sex, between periods or new bleeding which develops after the menopause.
What can you do to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer?
Attend Cervical Screening
The best way to protect yourself from cervical cancer is to attend cervical screening tests. The NHS Cervical Screening Programme is offered to all women aged 25 to 64 years. Women aged 24-49 years are invited for cervical screening tests every 3 years and those aged 50-64 years are invited every 5 years.
It is important to attend your cervical screening as it has been found that at least 75% of cervical cancers can be prevented by cervical screening. Figures have shown that 1 in 4 women do no attend their screenings, and although some women may feel uncomfortable, the test only takes a few minutes and can save lives! Jo’s cervical cancer trust has some great tips and advice for those feeling nervous about attending their screening test.
It is important to make sure your GP surgery has up-to-date contact details, so you will continue to receive your screening invitations. If you’ve recently missed a screening test, why not contact your GP to arrange an appointment?
The HPV vaccine is now routinely offered to girls aged 12 and 13 years as part of the childhood immunisation schedule until their 18th birthday. Vaccination against HPV can prevent girls from getting HPV which in turn can prevent cervical cancer and as well as some other anal and genital cancers and cancers of the head and neck.
The vaccine is given as 2 doses, 6 months apart and it is important for girls to have both doses in order to be fully protected against HPV. Although having the vaccine significantly reduces your risk, it does not guarantee that you will not develop cervical cancer and girls should be advised that they should still attend their cervical screening. For more information on the HPV vaccine see NHS Choices.
Practice safe sex
HPV can be spread through unprotected sex, so practicing safe sex can reduce your risk of developing an infection. Using protective contraceptive methods such as a condom can reduce your risk of developing HPV infection.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Avoid smoking can also reduce your risk of cervical cancer. Those who smoke may find it more difficult to get rid of a HPV infection and the chemicals found in tobacco are also thought to cause damage to the cells of the cervix. If need help with quitting smoking you can speak to your pharmacist or a GP for advice.
Use this year’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week to encourage loved ones and friends to be cervical cancer aware. With cervical cancer being a largely preventable disease, now is the time to act and raise awareness to help women prevent cervical cancer.
For more information on the Cervical Cancer Prevention Week campaign see Jo’s cervical cancer trust website or follow #SmearForSmear on twitter to show your support!
If you have any worries or concerns about cervical cancer don’t be afraid to speak to a GP. Early diagnosis can save lives. Our ZoomDoc GPs are available via 24/7 via our app for telemedicine or home visiting consultations.