With around 3,200 new cervical cancer cases in the UK every year, Cumbernauld and North Area Community Solutions Consortium is this week raising awareness of the disease and informing how women can reduce their risk.
Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, an annual campaign of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, takes place from 22-28 January 2024. Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). It mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45.
The number of cases in the country equates to around nine every day. Cervical cancer accounts for 2% of all new cancer cases in females in the country.
It is, however, a preventable form of cancer and with your help, Cumbernauld and North Area Community Solutions Consortium wants to help ensure that every woman in Cumbernauld knows how they can reduce their risk of the disease and the steps they can take to look after their health.
UNDERSTANDING CERVICAL CANCER: AN INTRODUCTION FOR CUMBERNAULD WOMEN
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus that can be passed on through any type of sexual contact with a man or a woman.
There are more than 100 types of HPV, many of which are harmless. But some types can cause abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer. Two strains, HPV 16 and HPV 18, are known to be responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. They do not have any symptoms, so women will not realise they have it.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer symptoms often go unnoticed because they mimic so many other ailments. Many women pass these symptoms off as PMS or ovulation pains. Many times, however, cervical cancer has no symptoms.
When symptoms are present, they usually do not appear until the cancer is more advanced. This does vary from woman to woman. Symptoms can include:
Abnormal bleeding – Women with cervical cancer may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding. This can be heavy or light bleeding during the month.
Unusual heavy discharge – Increased vaginal discharge is also a symptom of cervical cancer. It may be foul-smelling, watery, thick, or contain mucus. It varies from woman to woman. It is important to report any unusual vaginal discharge to your doctor.
Pelvic pain – Pain in the pelvic region that is not related to the normal menstrual cycle can be a cervical cancer symptom. Many women describe them ranging from a dull ache to sharp pains that can last hours. It can be mild or severe.
Pain during urination – Bladder pain or pain during urination can be a symptom of advanced cervical cancer. This cervical cancer symptom usually occurs when cancer has spread to the bladder.
Bleeding between regular menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse, douching, or pelvic exam – Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic exam can be cervical cancer symptoms. This is due to the irritation of the cervix during these activities. While a healthy cervix may have a very small amount of bleeding, many conditions may cause bleeding after activities like sex.
What Action to Take if You Recognise Any Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
First, don’t panic. Cervical cancer symptoms are vague and non-specific; they are not exclusive to cervical cancer. This means that many other conditions share the same symptoms, many of which are much less serious than cervical cancer. If you have the symptoms of cervical cancer, it is not a guarantee that you have the disease. However, it does mean that you should contact your GP.
There are a few things you should know that may be reassuring. In most cases, cervical cancer is a slow-progressing disease. It can take years before cervical pre-cancer develops into cervical cancer. Of course, it can happen sooner in some women, but for most, it takes several years. If you have been getting regular cervical screening, then any cervical abnormalities would have been detected.
When you do visit your doctor, he or she will most likely want to do a pelvic exam as well as a cervical screening. Remember to be thorough about your personal and family history, as your doctor will want to know your health history.
Most people find that even though they may have the symptoms of a disease, their doctor diagnoses them with something completely different. However, the bottom line is that you should not ignore your symptoms, self-diagnose or wait for them to go away on their own.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Cervical Cancer
All women aged 25 to 64 in Scotland are invited for free cervical screening. Women aged 25 to 49 are invited every three years and women aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years. The test can pick up changes to the cells in the cervix which if left untreated could develop into cervical cancer. Women on non-routine screening (where screening results have shown changes that require further investigation/follow up) will be invited up to the age of 70.
Your GP will be able to advise if you are due for a cervical screening. Missing cervical screening appointments can increase your risk of cervical cancer. Further information on cervical screening can be read by clicking here.
Another way to reduce the risk of cervical cancer is to take up the HPV vaccine if aged 11-18. Using condoms during sex offers some protection against HPV, but it cannot always prevent infection because the virus is also spread through skin-to-skin contact of the wider genital area.
A woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer increases if they are or ever have been sexually active, of if they smoke. The risk of cervical cancer increases when a person smokes because tobacco smoke affects the cells in the cervix.
Remember, early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment and full recovery. Early diagnosis is particularly relevant for cervical cancer. That’s why it’s so important not to ignore symptoms or preventative measures.
Further information about cervical cancer and how to prevent it can be sourced by visiting www.jostrust.org.uk. Advice and information are also available by contacting the organisation’s free helpline on 0808 802 8000.