The cervix is a cylinder-shaped neck of tissue which is the entrance from the vagina to the womb. Cervical cancer occurs when there’s an abnormal growth of cells in the cervix; it’s more commonly found in women over the age of 30. However, there’s been a rise in younger women developing the disease.
- – HPV (Human papilloma virus): 99% of cervical cancer cases are a direct cause of HPV. Women who’ve been previously affected by HPV are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
- – Weakened immune system: Conditions such as HIV, AIDS or taking immunosuppressants can increase the risk of cervical cancer.
- – Oral Contraceptive Pill: Women taking the pill for more than 5 years are at a higher risk although the reason for this is unknown.
- – Pregnancy: The more children you have, the more the risk increases.
- – Sexually Active: The more sexual partners you have, the higher the chance of developing cervical cancer. Unprotected sex can lead to a person contracting HPV through sex.
An HPV vaccine is available and offered to young women in order to prevent HPV leading to cancer. However, some woman vaccinated will still get cervical cancer later in life, so it’s important to know the symptoms.
Currently, in the UK, the NHS offers a cervical screening programme which has proven successful. It’s estimated that this screening programme saves 4,000 lives per year and highlights any abnormal cells in women that could result in cervical cancer in the future.
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Cervical Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Not all women get symptoms during the early stages of cervical cancer or the signs aren’t always too obvious. The main symptoms are:
- – Unusual Bleeding: Bleeding in-between periods or after sex
- – Discharge: Vaginal discharge that has a bad odour or stained with blood
- – Pain: Pain during or after sex and in the pelvis
- – Menopause: Bleeding after menopause
Advanced Cervical Cancer symptoms
- – Fatigue
- – Urinary incontinence
- – Changes to bowel habits
- – Changes to bladder habits
- – Swelling in one or both legs
- – Pain inside/ lower back towards kidneys
Some of these symptoms can relate to other conditions, but if you have one or more of the symptoms above, please visit your doctor.
Cervical Cancer Screening
When a woman reaches 25, they will receive a letter from their doctor to invite them for a smear test. This test will usually only last 5 minutes and for many women, it’s not painful. A small brush will collect some cells from your cervix. This tissue will then be sent off for testing and analysed. The test looks for abnormal or cancerous cells. If you have ‘abnormal cells’ or precancerous cells then you will require a referral for more tests or monitored more regularly, around 1 in 20 women have abnormal changes to their cervix, with many of these changes not leading to cervical cancer, you may need the cells removing as a precautionary measure, to avoid them becoming cancerous.
- – Women aged 25-49: Screening every three years
- – Women aged 50-64: Screening every five years
- – Women over 65- Only women who haven’t had a screening since the age of 50 and any woman showing abnormal cells.