This might be one for the ladies, but don’t switch off lads, it’s important everyone knows about cervical cancer. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing the disease. And Cervical Cancer Prevention Week aims to raise awareness about how you can do just that.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer affects a woman’s cervix, that is the entrance to the womb from the vagina. In the early stages of the disease, there are often no signs or symptoms which can make it difficult to spot.
Cancer of the cervix most commonly affects women aged between 30 and 45.
Although there may be no symptoms is the early stages for many women, abnormal bleeding can be a sign. Some women experience abnormal bleeding during or after sex, between periods or new bleeding despite going through the menopause.
It is important to remember that abnormal bleeding doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer, but you should see a GP to rule it out.
Causes of cervical cancer
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV. It’s a common virus and is associated with causing genital warts or cervical cancer and is passed on through any form of sexual activity with a man or woman.
There are over 100 different types of HPV, most of them are harmless but some, particularly HPV 16 and HPV 18, are known to cause cervical cancer. The virus causes abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix which can lead to cancer.
Many women who have these conditions don’t go on to develop cervical cancer. Using contraception like condoms during sex can help to prevent HPV transmission, but it won’t offer full protection because it can be passed on through skin to skin contact. Since 2008, the HPV vaccine has been offered to girls aged between 12 and 13 to prevent infection and cervical cancer.
The best way to protect yourself from cervical cancer is to attend cervical screening also known as a smear test when you are invited by your GP surgery. In the UK, all women aged 25-64 are invited to attend cervical screening.
Women aged 25-49 are offered screening every three years and women aged 50-64 have theirs every 5 years. Screening isn’t anything to be scared or worried about. A small sample of cells is collected from your cervix and sent away for analysis to check for any abnormalities.
If abnormal cells are found, this doesn’t mean you have cancer. In many cases, abnormal cells are caused by signs of HPV or treatable precancerous cells rather than cervical cancer itself.
Cervical cancer can affect women of all ages but there are things you can do to lower your risk of developing it. The best way to protect yourself is to attend the cervical screening programme offered by the NHS. Help spread awareness and encourage others to get checked this Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.