Women’s health is something we care about deeply at Pink Parcel. From PMS to sore nipples to cancer, there’s nothing we won’t talk about, which is why we’re teaming up with The Eve Appeal this September in support of Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month.
Each week, we’ll be helping the UK’s only gynaecological cancer charity to spread the key signs and symptoms of the five gynae cancers and talk as much as we can about how you can safeguard yourself against them – read again the NTKs of ovarian cancer, and then get the lowdown on today's topic, cervical cancer.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer develops in the cervix (also known as the neck of the womb) – the bit that connects your vagina to your womb.
Although it’s rare for cervical cancer to affect women younger than 25 years old, it can still develop in women of all ages. Generally, this type of cancer is most common in women aged between 30-45.
What are the symptoms?
Vaginal bleeding in between periods and after sex is up there at the top of the symptoms list for cervical cancer – The Eve Appeal advises you to get any abnormal bleeding checked out by your doctor asap.
Pain and discomfort during sex and an unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge can also be symptoms of cervical cancer, but sometimes the signs of this cancer aren’t always obvious or might not appear at all until it has reached an advanced stage.
If you're over 25, you’re probably being regularly reminded about a smear test, but it *really* is important that you attend all of your screening appointments. In this country we’re lucky to have a successful cervical screening programme that is estimated to save over 4,000 lives each year.
How does it develop?
Cervical cancer is mostly caused by something called “HPV” – the human papilloma virus – which is a group of viruses, rather than a single virus, of which there are more than 100 different types.
HPV is passed on through skin-to-skin sexual contact. Most women have HPV at some stage during their life, and it usually disappears all by itself without the need for any treatment. However, when it doesn’t there is a risk that abnormal cells can develop, which is what a smear test looks for. Although it’s rare, these abnormalities can become cancerous over time if left untreated.
How common is it?
So, although the HPV infection is very common, cervical cancer is relatively uncommon. The Eve Appeal say this suggests only a very small proportion of women are vulnerable to the effects of an HPV infection and other additional risk factors appear to affect a woman’s chance of developing cervical cancer. These include smoking, taking the oral contraceptive pill for longer that five years and having children (the more children you have, the greater your risk).
How is it diagnosed?
If the results of your smear test show abnormalities in the cells of your cervix, or if you have unexplained bleeding or your GP notices a growth on your cervix, you’ll be referred to see a gynaecologist. There’s no need to panic though if this happens – abnormalities don’t necessarily mean you have cervical cancer.
A colposcopy is an examination to look for abnormalities in your cervix. A small microscope with a light source at the end is used to examine at your cervix, and possibly remove a small tissue sample so that it can be checked under a microscope for cancerous cells.
How is it treated?
If your results show that there are changes in your cells but you don’t have cervical cancer, the cells will be removed. If cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, a complete cure is possible and treatment will depend entirely on how far the cancer has spread. The main types of surgery for cervical cancer include; radical trachelectomy – where the womb is left in place, hysterectomy or pelvic exenteration in advanced stages of the cancer. Radiotherapy is also an alternative to surgery with the advantage of avoiding an operation when the cancer is close to the bladder or colon.
Why is talking about cancer so important?
Recent research by The Eve Appeal revealed that cancer of the womb, ovary and cervix all appear in the list of the twenty most diagnosed cancers in England yet despite this, only one in five women have talked about the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancer with friends or family. Use the #gynaemonth hashtag to raise awareness and spread the word on gynae health.
For more information about The Eve Appeal or cervical cancer please visit eveappeal.org.uk
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