Why you shouldn’t skip your cervical screening

When, on average, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and two women lose their lives to the disease every day, attending your cervical screening appointment when invited, is vital for all women.

The #SmearForSmear campaign promoted by charity, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, has been designed to raise awareness of cervical cancer and spread the message that it can be prevented.

The campaign asks people to post pictures of themselves with their lipstick awry, to use the hashtag and nominate a friend to do the same on their social media accounts.

Behind the light-hearted approach is a dauntingly serious message – cervical cancer is now the most common cancer in women under 35 with eight women in the UK diagnosed with this cancer every day. Yet, cervical cancer is largely preventable and, if caught early, survival rates are high.

The cancer develops in women who have been infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is very common and it’s thought that one in three women are infected with the virus within two years of becoming sexually active.

There are lots of strains of the HPV virus, many of which are harmless. However, some types can cause abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer.

What else can increase the risk of getting cervical cancer?

Smoking – women who smoke are twice as likely to get cervical cancer as women that don’t smoke.

A weakened immune system – this applies to people with HIV/AIDs, or those who have taken tablets to stop their bodies rejecting a donated organ, for example.

Having children – a woman with two children is thought to be twice as likely of getting cervical cancer as a woman with no children. The more children you have, the more at risk you are.

Taking the contraceptive pill for more than five years – though the risk is not well understood.

Unprotected sex – HPV can be spread through unprotected sex, so using a condom can reduce your risk of developing the infection.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

During its early stages, cervical cancer often has no symptoms. The most common symptom of cervical cancer is unusual vaginal bleeding, which often occurs after sex. Other symptoms include pain when having sex or passing urine and an unpleasant smelling discharge. Any woman who experiences unusual bleeding outside of her period, after sex or after the menopause, should consult her GP.

How can I prevent getting cervical cancer?

The most effective method of preventing cervical cancer is through regular cervical screenings. These screening allow for the detection of any early changes in the cervix. For younger women, the HPV vaccination can help prevent seven out of 10 cervical cancers.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is encouraging every woman to make sure that she follows up invitations from her GP to attend regular smear tests.

If you or a loved one has cervical cancer and you feel you need financial, emotional or practical support, or if you would like more information about cervical cancer, there are a number of charities and support groups which can help, such as Macmillan Cancer Support and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.