By Mr Edward Morris, RCOG Vice President and Consultant Gynaecologist
Each day in the UK, two women lose their battle with cervical cancer, the most common cancer in women under 35, yet new statistics reveal almost half of women don’t know what the cervix is.
To mark the start of Cervical Screening Awareness Week (12-18 June), Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has released a new study. The survey of 1,040 women shows 43% are unable to correctly identify the cervix as the neck of the womb (uterus), and one in six women couldn’t name a single function of the cervix. The charity hopes these findings will encourage women to talk about and protect their cervical health.
Regular cervical screening offers the best protection against developing cervical cancer, which is a largely preventable disease. Evidence shows routine screening prevents up to 75% of cervical cancers and saves 5,000 lives a year in the UK, yet one in four women don’t take up their screening invitation. Attendance rates have fallen to a 19 year low in England (73%), and a 10 year low in both Wales (78%) and Scotland (76%).
Prevention is crucial in the fight against cervical cancer, as it often has no symptoms in the early stages. A cervical screening test is a method of detecting irregular or pre-cancerous cells in the cervix, which, if left untreated, may develop into cancer. The earlier these are picked up, the better the outcome for women. Not being screened regularly is one of the biggest risk factors for developing cervical cancer.
Another tool in our arsenal to prevent cervical cancer is the HPV vaccine (human papilloma virus), which is offered to all girls in the UK aged 12 to 13 as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. The vaccine protects against two types of HPV which are responsible for more than 70% of cervical cancers in the UK. Because the vaccine doesn’t prevent all types of cervical cancer, it’s crucial that all women attend their screening appointments, even if they’ve had the vaccine at school.
The RCOG encourages all women over 25 to take part in the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, which offers regular screening every three years to those aged 25-49, and every five years for those 50-64. Women should be reassured that screening isn’t a test for cancer, and most results come back normal, with no abnormalities found. While for around 1 in 20 women the test shows some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, most of these changes won’t lead to cervical cancer.
Women should get to know their cervix and never be embarrassed about seeing their doctor if they have any concerns about their vaginal health. It’s best to visit a GP if women notice any unusual vaginal bleeding, experience pain and discomfort during sex or have unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge. It’s probably nothing serious but it’s best to get it checked out. I hope that Cervical Screening Awareness Week will encourage women to talk to their friends, family and partners about the importance of cervical health. Together we can reduce the number of cervical cancer cases and save lives.
To find out more about Cervical Screening Awareness Week, visit Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
For information on cervical screening, please see NHS Choices.
For media enquiries please contact the RCOG press office on 020 7772 6357 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a medical charity that champions the provision of high quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision.