Cervical Cancer Prevention Week takes place this year from January 20th to 26th. The goal is to educate about the disease and ways to prevent it. NHS statistics from 2017 showed that every day 9 women in the UK are diagnosed with the disease and 3 lose their lives. It is the fourth most recurrent cancer in women. But what exactly is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs in the cervix cells. The uterine cervix links the uterus with the vagina. This kind of cancer makes cervix cells grow and attack other organs. It is not sure what exactly can cause it but the HPV (Human Papillomavirus, a sexual infection) has a role. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus is connected to 99% of this cancer. Although many people live with the HPV virus, they may never develop the disease. However, it is important to know the risk factors, such as an elevated number of sexual partners; the early start of a sexual life; suffering from other sexual diseases; weak immune systems and smoking.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent this cancer. For instance, doing regular screening tests (also known as smear test) is very important, as they can detect precancerous situations in the cervix. Getting the HPV vaccine is as well crucial. Also, practising safe intercourse, reduces the risk of infections. In addition, women should know and recognise the symptoms: pelvic pain or pain during intercourse; bleeding after intercourse/between periods; bleeding after menopause; vaginal discharges.
Therefore, if you are concerned about any of these symptoms or want to have a regular check-up, consult your doctor. According to WHO, about 90% of women who died from this disease had poor access to screening and treatment. This is worrying due to the huge success rate of treatment when the cancer is diagnosed early.
WHO is making huge efforts to address these issues and set global targets to be achieved by 2030. Here are a couple of examples:
♦ By the age of 15, at least 90% of the girls should be vaccinated against HPV
♦ Screening should cover 70% of women and girls
In fact, scientists at Queen Mary University, London have developed a DIY screening test for cervical cancer. Women who have limited access to health care could be easily diagnosed. This brings hope for the prevention and treatment. The DIY test analyses urine or vaginal discharges to measure the disease’s risk. Although this finding was very positive, the tests were not as accurate as those performed in the UK’s hospitals. More testing and experimentation need to be done to optimise this device. However, Dr Nedjai (one of the scientists who developed it) says it will probably be available in five years.
- What you need to know about cervical cancer, January 2019, Medical News Today
- Cervical cancer, World Health Organization
- Cervical screening: DIY alternative to smear test ‘promising’, November 2019, BBC