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A blog to raise awareness of cervical cancer and the importance of the national screening programme in ensuring early diagnosis and treatment.
By Ali Cloak
The European Cervical Cancer Prevention week is taking place this week between 24-30 January 2016. This is the 10th year of the campaign, driven by the European Cervical Cancer Association (ECCA), and supported in the UK by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. The programme aspires to raise awareness of the disease and to increase uptake in the cervical screening program.
Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women, after breast cancer and my colleague Rebecca wrote last year about the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer.
Generally, cervical cancer is most common in parts of the world where there is no screening programme in place or where the screening programme is ineffective. However, even within Europe it is reported that around 60,000 women develop cervical cancer each year and, staggeringly, 30,000 women die from it. NHS Choices report that over 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer here in the UK each year.
It is widely acknowledged that the vast majority of cases of cervical cancer could be prevented in countries where there is a system offering cervical screening for adult women in conjunction with HPV vaccination for adolescent females. The ECCA estimate that 80% of cervical cancers are preventable with this approach. However, there continues to be a significant number of deaths every year from the disease and experts believe many of these are avoidable.
The ECCA launched the European Cervical Cancer Prevention week to disseminate its key concerns. Despite being preventable or treatable in the vast majority of cases, such cases rely on early detection and prompt management.
In England and Wales women are invited for screening at least every 3 years between the ages of 25-49 and at least every 5 years between 50-64. However, research suggests that large numbers of women in the UK fail to attend their cervical screening appointments. Jo’s Trust, cervical cancer charity, highlight that this is especially worrying in women aged 25-29 where approximately 1 in 3 fail to take up their screening invitation. It was recently reported that over 1 million women failed to attend a screening appointment last year in the UK.
It is thought that this may be due to the anxiety or embarrassment of having to undergo an intimate examination of this type. Jo’s Trust has launched a campaign called #SmearForSmear. The charity is encouraging people to share a lipstick smear selfie on social media in order to encourage people to talk about the importance of attending your smear test when invited, and realising that a few minutes of time, which may seem embarrassing, could ultimately save your life.
I don’t think that the importance of cervical screening can be stressed enough. With early detection the prospects of successful treatment are very good. Unfortunately, we tend to see cases where there has been a delayed diagnosis of cervical cancer, for example if a smear test has been incorrectly interpreted or an abnormal result not communicated. In these cases the late diagnosis can mean the cancer has progressed to a later stage requiring more extensive treatment or a worse prognosis for the patient. These delays due to clinical errors are thankfully quite rare, but the worse outcome caused by the delay does highlight the importance of women attending screening when invited and doing everything in their power to ensure any abnormalities are diagnosed as early as possible.
My colleagues and I in the Clinical Negligence Team are fully supportive of the ECCA and Jo’s Trust in their campaigns this week.