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Cervical cancer: protect yourself!
Did you know that nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every day in the UK? However, 75% of cervical cancers can be prevented by cervical screenings, also known as smear tests, which is why it’s so important that women attend their cervical screening when invited.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical Cancer mainly affects sexually active women aged 30 to 45 and develops in the woman's cervix, which is the entrance to the womb from the vagina.
According to Jo’s Trust, a leading cervical cancer charity: “Almost all cases of cervical cancer (99.7%) are caused by infections with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common infection that four out of five sexually active adults will come into contact within their lives. It is contracted through any skin-to-skin contact, including genital-to-genital contact, anal, vaginal and oral sex.”
Reduce your risk of cervical cancer!
Knowing the symptoms of cervical cancer and going for your routine screening are the first steps to reducing your risk. Women between the ages of 25 to 49 are offered a screening every three years, whilst those aged 50 to 64 are offered a screening every five years.
Your cervical screening appointment shouldn’t take any longer than about 15 minutes, with the test taking about 3 minutes itself. Your nurse will explain all the details with you and if you have any questions then this is a good time to ask. During your cervical screening, a sample of cells is taken from your cervix and checked under a microscope for any abnormalities, however, an abnormal result does not mean you definitely have cancer. Some abnormal results can be caused due to signs of HPV or treatable precancerous cells. You will receive your results by post, usually within two weeks, however, this can vary in time depending on where you live but your nurse will give you a time frame in which you should expect to receive your letter by.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
- Abnormal bleeding during or after sexual intercourse or between periods
- Post-menopausal bleeding if you are not on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or have stopped it for six weeks or more
- Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Lower back pain
The HPV vaccine for girls under 18
Girls aged 11 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccine which is free in schools through the NHS vaccination programme. The HPV vaccine can help protect against seven out of ten cases of cervical cancer, although there are other types of high-risk HPV. The vaccine is free up until you are 18 years old so you can speak to your nurse or GP about having it done. The HPV vaccine can prevent infection and cervical abnormalities for at least 10 years, but some research has suggested that it will last longer.
For more information regarding cervical cancer and the screening process visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-cancer. If you have any worries or concerns about your cervical screening or have any of the symptoms mentioned, seek medical advice from your GP or practising nurse.
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