January 18 to 24 2021 is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.
This week is an opportunity to raise awareness about the risks of cervical cancer and to help everyone with cervixes learn about how to reduce these risks and prevent the illness.
It is very important for women and all people with cervixes to reduce their risk of cervical cancer by:
- Having a cervical screening
- Knowing the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer and seeking medical advice if experiencing any
- Taking the HPV vaccine if aged 11 to 18 and encouraging others to do so
- Knowing where to find support and further information
Jo’s trust has a 2021 campaign for cervical cancer prevention week. You can also check out The Grace Charity and the Eve Appeal for more information on gynaecological cancer awareness.
Cervical cancer develops in the cervix, which is the entrance of the womb from the vagina. It mainly affects sexually active women between 30 and 45 years old.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
- Cancer of the cervix often has no symptoms in its early stages
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (can happen during or after sex, in between menstruation or new bleeding after you have been through menopause); this bleeding does not mean you have cancer, but it is strongly suggested to speak speak to your GP as soon as possible and get it checked out. If your GP suspects cancer, they will refer you to a specialist within 2 weeks.
What tests to I have to go through for cervical cancer?
Regular cervical screenings (“smear tests”): The NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites everyone with a cervix from age 25 to 64 to attend a cervical screening
- People aged 25 to 49 are offered screening every 3 years
- People aged 50 to 64 are offered screening every 5 years
During the cervical screening, a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix and checked under a microscope for abnormalities. In some cases, the sample will be tested for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which can cause abnormal cells.
An abnormal test result does not mean you definitely have cancer. In most cases, it is due to signs of HPV, which is treatable.
What are the causes of cervical cancer?
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. It is a very common virus that can be passed on through any type of sexual contact with either 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 18 are known to be responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. They do not have any symptoms, so women do not realise they have it. While these infections are very common, most women who have them do not develop cervical cancer.
Using a condom during sexual activity offers some protection against HPV. HPV is also spread through skin-to-skin contact of the wider genital ares.
The HPV vaccine has been routinely offered to girls aged 12 and 13 since 2008.
How to treat cervical cancer?
If cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it’s usually possible to treat it using surgery. In some cases, it’s possible to leave the womb in place, but sometimes it may need to be removed. The surgical procedure used to remove the womb is called a hysterectomy. Radiotherapy is another option for people with early-stage cervical cancer. In some cases, it’s used alongside surgery or chemotherapy, or both.
More advanced cases of cervical cancer are usually treated using a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Some of the treatments can have significant and long lasting side effects, including early menopause and infertility.
Some women with cervical cancer may develop complications. These can arise as a direct result of the cancer or as a side effect of the treatments (radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery).
The complications associated with cervical cancer can range from the relatively minor; like some bleeding from the vagina or having to pee frequently, to life threatening; such as severe bleeding or kidney failure.
Cervical cancer and sexuality
Being diagnosed with cervical cancer and undergoing treatment have an affect on how you see yourself sexually and physically. Radiotherapy and a hysterectomy can cause physical changes which may have an effect on your sex life. Radiotherapy to the pelvis can cause dryness or narrowing of the vagina. Most feelings and emotions around the changes and sex are related to feeling anxious about the pain, bleeding and thinking it will feel different than before. This also affects the partners as they are worried they may hurt their partner.
Some are still facing these fears where as others have overcome the initials fears and emotions and have been able to rebuild their sex life.
Infertility can be a side effect of some treatments. This may affect how they see themselves.
Some have experienced premature menopause after radiotherapy, which comes with its own challenges.
I hope this article has helped you better understand cervical cancer.
If you have a cervix and are aged 25 to 64, make sure you are speaking to your GP about undergoing regular screenings.
Be kind to one another,