This week marks the annual campaign to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening. It is reported that over 220,000 women are diagnosed with abnormal cell changes each year, yet still, one in four women miss their smear test appointments every three years.
Presently there are approximately 3,200 new cervical cancer diagnoses in the UK every year. This averages to about eight new cases a day. It is likely that this figure will have increased given delays or cancellations to appointments during the Covid-19 pandemic.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is not always obvious. Symptoms are wide-ranging and can include:
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Pain and discomfort during sex
- Lower back and pelvic pain
More non-specific symptoms may also occur such as constipation or urinary symptoms. Sometimes cervical cancer may present with no symptoms at all until the disease has progressed, which emphasises the importance of regular cervical cancer screening tests.
What is a cervical screening test?
A cervical screening test, also known as a smear test, checks the health of your cervix. This is not performed as a test for cancer, but helps to prevent cancer.
A small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix. The sample is checked for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause changes to the cells in your cervix. If these types of HPV are not found, you do not need any further tests.
The purpose of the test is to ultimately identify whether there are any abnormal cervical cells present. If so, treatment is required otherwise there is a risk that they may develop into cancer.
Who can have a cervical screening test?
Under the current NHS guidelines, all people with a cervix aged 25 to 49 are encouraged to get a screening every three years. Those who are 50 to 64 should get a screening every five years.
Despite a government review, the decision was made to continue offering cervical screening from age 25 onwards. Consequently, those under 25 receive little support or benefit from being screened or tested.
It is essential that you seek medical advice if you are displaying any abnormal symptoms.
It is all too common that negligence cases are brought from a delay or misdiagnosis of cervical cancer, which is why it is important to raise awareness especially given that 99.8% of cervical cancer cases, according to Cancer Research UK are preventable.
For more information about cervical cancer please visit Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.