EVERY year, thousands of cases of cervical cancer are reported in the UK alone.
The Covid pandemic resulted in many women missing their appointments for cervical cancer screenings due to fears related to the virus or late reminders.
But it has never been more important to do that check now.
Around 99.8 percent of cervical cancer cases are preventable and early detection is key.
When Jade Goody died of cervical cancer a decade ago, it caused nearly half a million more women than usual to have smears.
To encourage more women to collect their checks, Fabulous Daily and Jo’s Trust, the cervical cancer charity, launched the #CheersForSmears campaign earlier this year.
INTIMINA brand gynecologist and obstetrician for intimate wellbeing, Dr. Shree Datta said screening tests are important because if abnormal precancerous lesions on your cervix are not treated, they can eventually turn into cervical cancer.
Around five million women are invited to cervical screening in the UK each year.
Catch it at the earliest stage – stage 1 – and you have the highest chance of surviving it. But if you’re diagnosed at stage 4, you only have a 5 percent chance of surviving five years or more.
For this reason, it is absolutely essential that you understand what changes to look for and get them tested as soon as possible.
There are things you can look out for in order to detect cervical cancer early – and thereby stop it from developing. Here’s what to look out for.
1. Abnormal bleeding
Dr. Datta said that one of the main symptoms to look out for in cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding.
She said this could be after sex or between your usual periods.
If you have irregular periods anyway, this can be hard to spot, so be on the lookout for spots.
Abnormal bleeding can also occur after you have passed through menopause.
The NHS states that abnormal bleeding doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer, but you should get this checked out by your GP as soon as possible.
Cervical Cancer Myths Shattered
There is a lot of misinformation about the disease and that puts many of us at risk. This is where Imogen Pinnell, Health Information Manager at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, breaks up some of the most common myths.
1. HPV is rare: False
HPV is actually very common! In fact, 4 out of 5 people (80 percent) will have the virus at some point in their life.
In many cases, our immune systems will get rid of HPV without us ever knowing we had it.
That is why it is so important to get rid of the stigma attached to the virus.
2. Only promiscuous people get HPV: Wrong
You can get HPV the first time you have sexual contact, so it doesn’t matter how many people you’ve had sex with.
The virus can also dormant in your body for years – even decades – so if you are with the same person for a long time, you can still have the virus.
3. Smears are a test for cervical cancer: false
A smear is designed to detect changes (abnormalities) in cells in the cervix at an early stage before they develop into cervical cancer.
So it actually prevents 75 percent of cervical cancers from ever developing.
4. Smears are supposed to hurt: Wrong
A smear shouldn’t hurt. For most people, swabs can be a little uncomfortable, but they aren’t painful.
But we know it’s not always an easy test. So if you are in pain or worry, there are things that can help you.
Talk to your nurse about ways to improve the smear for you.
5. Only young people get cervical cancer: Wrong
Cervical cancer affects women of all ages, so it is important to take smears when inviting them – attending will help reduce your risk of developing it.
6. If you received the HPV vaccine, you don’t need to have a smear test: Wrong
If you got the HPV vaccination, you will be protected against at least 70 percent of all types of cervical cancers.
You are not fully protected against all types of cervical cancers, however, so it is still important to cut corners when invited.
So if you are over 25 make sure to finish your swab tests.
If you are under the age of 25 try to make sure you are aware of what is going on with your body and see a doctor urgently if anything from the list above happens.
Remember, doctors have seen and heard everything – there is absolutely no need to be ashamed of yourself talking about your gynecological health.
In fact, it can even save your life.
2. Vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge that looks or smells unusual to you could be a sign of cervical cancer, said Dr. Datta.
Every discharge is different so you need to know what is normal for you.
If you find that the color, smell, and texture have changed, be sure to check.
When cancer is deprived of oxygen, it can cause an infection, resulting in a strange smelling discharge.
3. Blood in the urine
Dr. Datta says that if you notice blood in your urine, it could be a sign of cervical cancer.
If the cancer spreads into your vagina, it can cause significant damage, leading to bleeding.
The NHS states that this could be in your “vagina or back passport (rectum)” or you could pass blood while you pee.
4. A change in your bowel movements
If you find that your bowel movements are slightly different, it could be a sign of cervical cancer.
If the consistency of the stool has changed over a long period of time, it may be time to see your GP.
Everyone’s movements are different, so knowing what a change will look like for you is important.
Bloating in the abdomen can be an indicator of cervical cancer.
Most of the time, gas is caused by something you’ve eaten, carbonated drinks, or a change in diet.
However, if you have persistent gas, it is important to see your primary care doctor.
6. Pain during sex
Pain during sex can be a sign of various problems, but one thing is cervical cancer.
Since the disease is often symptomatic, painful intercourse is one of the key indicators. This can be a sign that the cancer is spreading to surrounding tissues.
7. Lower back pain
It could be because you are exerting yourself at the gym, or it could be a warning sign that something is wrong with your reproductive organs.
Persistent pain – just a single pull – in the lower back, pelvis, or appendix can be a symptom of cervical cancer.
8. Accidental weight loss
While effortless weight loss may sound like the answer to many of our prayers, it is never a good sign when it happens for no apparent reason.
Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss are usually signs that the body is not working properly – it is trying to save energy. If you find that you are not eating as you normally would, see your GP.
Dr. Datta said the main risk factors for cervical cancer are HPV infection and smoking.
She said: “Other infections like chlamydia or HIV can also increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
“Taking birth control pills for more than 5 years can also increase your risk of cervical cancer slightly, just as if you have had children.
“If another member of your family has had cervical cancer, or if you’ve had certain types of cancer, such as kidney or vaginal cancer, you are also at a higher risk of cervical cancer.”
It’s important to remember that cervical cancer is treatable – that’s why it’s so important that you get your swab when prompted.
Dr. Datta added, “Most cervical cancers are detected at an early stage and can be treated.
“The type of treatment really depends on the severity of the cancer – if it’s caught early, you can get treatment to remove the abnormal area of your cervix or have a hysterectomy.
“We will also consider whether your family is complete when we consider which treatment will best suit you.”
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