Cervical Cancer Awareness Week
Cervical cancer claims 30,000 lives each year across Europe - and tragically, 80 per cent of these cases are preventable. It accounts for about 3,000 diagnoses in the UK alone. However, the disease is easily detectable with a cervical scan - so why aren't more women taking them?
Despite public perception, a cervical scan - once known as a "smear test" - is a fairly simple test which checks the cells of the cervix for any abnormal changes. It can be a little uncomfortable, but it's relatively painless - a speculum is used to open the walls of the vagina, and a soft brush is used to take some cells from the surface of the cervix. The procedure takes about five minutes, and is recommended for all women aged over 25 in the UK.
Cervical scans are not directly intended to test for cancer; their main aim is simply to check the health of the cervix. A virus called HPV (human papilloma virus) is usually the cause of changes within the cervix - however, there are certain strains of this virus which are connected to high rates of cervical cancer. At the moment a HPV vaccine is offered to all girls aged between 12 and 13; however testing is still carried out during cervical screening to ensure there is no abnormal activity.
Why are so many people affected?
In many countries there simply aren't effective screening tests, and HPV vaccinations are scarce, meaning that people do not have access to preventative care. However in countries like the UK cervical scans are available free for all adults, but 20 per cent of women do not attend a screening. The European Cervical Cancer Association believes that this in mainly due to a lack of information around why screenings are important - and the general impression of scans as being an inherently unpleasant experience.
What can I do?
If you haven't already had a cervical screening, and you're over 25, you should contact your own doctor and make an appointment. You can also help to raise awareness this week by distributing leaflets, talking to your employer about putting posters up, and launching conversation around cervical screening among friends by sharing relevant information online. To learn more, take a look at the resources below.