Every day 8 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK and 3 women will unfortunately lose their lives to the disease. Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is all about raising awareness of the symptoms and causes of cervical cancer as well as highlighting ways in which it can be prevented.
What causes cervical cancer?
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the major cause of most types of cervical cancer. HPV is very common with about 4 in 5 women developing the virus at some point in their lives. There are over 100 different types of the sexually transmitted virus but only some types are high risk for cervical cancer. A woman can be infected with HPV for years and not have any symptoms and quite often people are not aware they have the virus until they have had cervical screening. Additional risk factors for cervical cancer include smoking, having a weakened immune system, pregnancy and taking the oral contraceptive pill for more than five years.
What are the symptoms?
It’s common not to experience any symptoms in the earlier stages of cervical cancer; the most common symptom experienced by women is unusual vaginal bleeding. Although there are many other causes of unusual vaginal bleeding, it is important that you make an appointment with your GP if you notice this.
The UK HPV vaccination programme:
In the UK, girls aged between 12 and 14 years are offered the HPV vaccine, Gardasil. The vaccination gives protection from the virus for 10 years and it is expected that the programme will prevent at least 7 out of 10 cancers of the cervix.
All women between the ages of 25 and 49 years are invited to attend cervical screening every three years. Cervical screening is the best way to detect any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix at an early stage. Even though cervical screening isn’t compulsory in the UK, it is important that you attend your appointment even if you have had the HPV vaccine and present with no symptoms.
For more information on cervical cancer and Cervical Cancer Prevention Week visit the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website.