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Cervical Screening Awareness Week

Why cervical screening is so important

I was surprised to learn that there are around 5 million women in the UK that are invited to attend a cervical screening, more commonly known as a smear test and yet 20% of these women don’t attend their screening appointment – that is 20% too many!

Cervical screening is an important test which takes samples from the cervix to detect abnormalities within the cells, that may go on to develop into cancer or that may have already done so. Screening will also detect human papillomavirus (HPV) and the more persistent strains of this virus the more chance of it causing cervical cancer. HPV is prevalent in sexually active adults and four out of five will at some stage of their life come into contact with it.
According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust there are as many as 3,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK each year. It is estimated that early detection and treatment through cervical screening can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers from developing. Screening is provided free of charge by the NHS and not attending your appointment is one of the biggest risk factors for developing cervical cancer.

Causes of cervical cancer

As with most cancers, smoking can pose an increased risk as it causes abnormalities in the cells of the cervix.

Other risk factors could be:

  • Having children at a very young age
  • Giving birth to too many children
  • A weakened immune system
  • If your mother was given infertility drugs whilst being pregnant
  • Long term use of the contraceptive pill (more than 10 years) can slightly increase the risk

It is a myth that it is caused by promiscuity or infidelity, however the more sexual partners you have and the younger you are when you have your first sexual encounter, the more likely you are to come into contact with the more serious strains of HPV.

How many of you over the age of twenty can say you are one of the 20% that have ignored an invitation to attend a screening or made an appointment, then cancelled it at the last moment because of the fear of the unknown, or anxiety from previous experiences. I know that in my younger years and prior to me having my daughter, I didn’t miss any appointment however, this was no easy feat.

I think most women will admit that it is not a pleasant experience. Yes it can be uncomfortable, un- dignified and daunting especially if you are young, not yet had babies or do not like to going to the doctors, I can empathise with you as I used to feel the same way. However, since being pregnant with my daughter and the process of labour and giving birth, my thoughts have changed considerably.

If you can arrange an appointment with the practice nurse or a female doctor that will help with your anxieties and I can imagine it is not pleasant for them either. I find the topic of conversation is not about the procedure but anything else that comes to mind. I remember the last time I was rambling on about the length of the queue in the supermarket and how much the cost of food has gone up by and guess what; before I knew it the deed had been done.

I still find it incredible to believe that one million women cannot find 15 minutes out of one day, once every 3 or 5 years depending on where you live, to have such an important test and remember this is a test provided free by the NHS, there is no charge and could save your life.

I would hope the media coverage and the very public viewing of Jade Goody’s battle with cervical cancer, has made a lot of women sit up and take note of how serious this cancer is and yet with early detection and a screening reliability rate of 80-90%, cervical cancer can be prevented in 60-80% of cases. This is the same as 7 out of 10 women being prevented from developing cancer of the cervix.

You may be interested to hear that 2% of cancers diagnosed in women are cervical cancers and it is the most common cancer in women under 35 years old and despite this, it is this age group that appears to avoid the screening test.

Cervical screening in summary

  • An abnormal screening rarely means cancer
  • Between 90-94% of all screening results are negative
  • Regular screening offers the best form of protection
  • It is free, but make sure your GP has your current contact details
  • Screening saves 5000 lives a year
  • Ask a friend or family member to go with you for support, rather than not go at all

My health is important to me more than ever now I have a family, but then again why wasn’t it before? I can say that if I was to develop cervical cancer it wouldn’t be from not attending my routine cervical screening or from any of the risk factors above, but for other reasons. Can you say the same?