Cervical Cancer

WHO IS AFFECTED?

Around 3,100 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK each year and it’s the most common cancer in women under 35 years old.

Cervical screening is essential because cervical cancer can be prevented. The NHS cervical screening programme offers testing to women between the ages of 25 and 64. More than four million women are invited for cervical screening each year in England. Around 1 in 100 women screened will have an abnormal result. This does not mean that all women with an abnormal test will develop cervical cancer. Early treatment can prevent these cervical changes developing into cancer.

WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the major cause of cervical cancer. It is passed on through sexual contact. All girls aged 12 or 13 in the UK are routinely offered the HPV vaccine at school. These vaccines protect against the strains of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer.

Other risk factors include smoking, HIV and taking the pill. Women with a weakened immune system and those who have had a large number of children are also more likely to get cervical cancer.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

The most common symptom of cervical cancer is bleeding from the vagina at times other than when you are having a period. This includes between periods, after or during sex, at any time if you are past your menopause. Some women also have:

  • Vaginal discharge that smells unpleasant
  • Discomfort or pain during sex

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, particularly if

  • They are not normal for you
  • They are persistent
  • There are repeated episodes
  • They do not go away

… be sure to visit your doctor for a check up.

Remember, most women with symptoms like these do not have cancer. Your awareness of your symptoms is the first and most important step – early diagnosis can save lives.

WHAT IS THE TREATMENT?

Treatment for abdominal cervical cells

There are several different treatments available for precancerous changes in the cervix. They all aim to remove or destroy the abnormal cells. This can be done by freezing, with heat from a laser or hot probe, or by cutting out the affected area.

If you are past your menopause or have had all the children you want to have, your doctor may suggest removing the whole of your womb. This is more likely if you have had abnormal cells found on your cervix more than once, or if the abnormality found was severe. In other words, you have not got cervical cancer, but the abnormal cells on your cervix are closer to becoming cancerous cells.

Treatment for cervical cancer

Early cervical cancer can usually be cured with surgery or radiotherapy or both. Surgery usually means that you have your womb and cervix completely removed (hysterectomy). Radiotherapy involves having treatment to the womb, cervix and surrounding tissues. Specialists sometimes suggest radiotherapy after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. If the disease is still in the very early stages and has not spread to the lymph nodes, surgeons may be able to undertake fertility-sparing surgery (trachelectomy- removal of cervix), for women of a childbearing age.

Advanced cervical cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy together or chemotherapy alone. Even if your cervical cancer cannot be cured there are treatments available to control the symptoms. Specialists will discuss and put together a treatment plan for you.