When I think of cervical cancer, I remember Jade Goody, the reality TV star from Essex (where I live). She died at the aged of 27 of this disease sparking a reversed trend which had seen demand for screening decline over the past decade (Wikipedia, 2015).
I know there’s a statistic going around that says 1 in 3 of us will suffer from this disease so it really is something we should talk about in order to raise awareness for ourselves and for others. Cervical cancer is just one of many different forms of cancer but it probably is one we speak less about due to the sensitive nature of it involving our nether regions!
So, I’m shrugging off any taboo’s and sharing some valuable information with you; 9 need to knows…
1. Each year, 3,100 women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer, but the disease is largely treatable if caught early. This cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 (Cancer Research UK)
2. What is cervical cancer? …it forms in the tissues of the cervix, an organ that connects the uterus and the vagina. 74% of all cervical cancers in Europe are caused by Human Papilloma Virus – HPV16 and HPV18 (Cancer Research UK)
3. What is HPV? …it’s an extremely common sexually transmitted virus of which there are 100 different strains. 4 in 5 people are exposed to HPV at some point in their life. 99.7% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.
4. Symptoms of cervical cancer include (and are not limited to) abnormal bleeding, unpleasant discharge, discomfort during sexual intercourse and / or lower back pain. Some women may not even present any symptoms.
If you are EVER unsure about anything, make an appointment with your GP and don’t take no for an answer until you have the reassurance that there is nothing for you to worry about.
5. The national screening programme on the NHS (testing for HPV) is designed to look for cervical abnormalities rather than cancer. It’s been in place since the 1980’s is currently offered to women aged over 25 years.
Ensure you keep up to date on when your last smear test was, when your next is due and make every effort to attend an appointment.
6. For younger women, the HPV vaccination can help prevent seven out of ten cervical cancers (Cancer Research UK)
7. There are 1 million women in the UK who do not engage with the screening programme for various reasons from religion, lifestyle or personal reasons (Target100,000, launching September 2015)
Are you one of these 1 million women?!
8. Gynaecheck (launched September 2015), is a three second cervical cancer screen that you can do in the comfort of your own home. It’s an option for those women who feel they don’t have the time to attend their smear tests with a GP. The same age restrictions apply to GynaeCheck as the national screening programme. It can be ordered online and arrives in discreet packaging.
GynaeCheck takes a specimen from the cervix using a vaginal lavage technique to take a fluid sample and unlike a smear test doesn’t use a speculum or ‘scraping’ method which in turn makes it a more comfortable option. It measure 1.6cm in diameter and 22cm in length of which 12cm is designed to be inserted into the vagina. Once the sample is collected it is transferred to a test tube. The sample is then returned to the laboratory for testing in a stamped, addressed parcel provided in the kit (pictured above).
9. GynaeCheck was developed by gynaecologists in the Netherlands and has already been used by over 30,000 women. It costs £129 and GynaeCheck+ (which includes a test for Chlamydia) is £149.
I went along to the launch event of GynaeCheck a few weeks ago and was lucky enough to get filled in by Dr Pixie McKenna (of Embarrassing Bodies). It was such an informative morning and the most perfect atmosphere for discussing HPV, cervical cancer and everyone’s own personal experiences. I also have my own GynaeCheck to complete (I’ll be posting back my sample as you read this!); and as everyone else, I’ll be hoping for (negative (for HPV) results! But, at the end of the day, early detection saves lives…
So what are you waiting for?!