Prevention is key in the fight against cervical cancer, according to a gynaecologist at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals.
Despite being a preventable disease, almost 3,000 women a year are diagnosed in the UK – and 20% of women do not take up their invitation for cervical screening.
Cervical Cancer Prevention Week continues until Sunday (January 26) and promotes information about symptoms, causes and prevention of the disease.
In addition to prevention, the week focuses on the importance of early detection as the key to better survival rates.
Dr Ahmed Elias, a consultant gynaecologist at the Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “There is no doubt that cervical screening, or smear tests, saves lives and women should not under-estimate the importance of attending their routine screening appointments at their GP surgery.
“Although we are fortunate in the UK, having one of the best screening programmes worldwide, NHS statistics are showing that 20% of women are still not taking up their screening invitations.
“Women may feel scared or embarrassed about having the test and will put off going but it really is quick and straightforward and there is nothing to be fearful about.
“Nowadays, not being screened regularly is one of the biggest risk factors for developing cervical cancer.”
Cervical cancer is now the most common cancer in women under 35 but the majority of cases could be prevented by screening and HPV vaccination of girls aged 12 to 13 years. Screening is designed to pick up changes to cervical cells at a very early stage.
Most women receive a normal result and attend regular screening every few years but, Dr Elias added, for the few who receive an ‘abnormal’ result, it is rarely anything to be concerned about. He said often the cell changes will be minor and over a period of time will go back to normal. Only a very small number will be treated at colposcopy clinics to prevent future development of cancer.
Early stage cervical cancers do not usually have symptoms but there are some associated with abnormal or post-menopausal bleeding, unusual discharge, discomfort or pain during sex and lower back pain.
“Prevention is the main focus in the fight against cervical cancer,” said Dr Elias. “Intervention after it has been diagnosed can sometimes be too late.
“Throughout my career working with the NHS cervical screening programme, I have seen a significant reduction in incidence and mortality of cervical cancer. This has mostly been achieved through prevention with women attending their routine test.”