This week January 22nd - 28th 2017 is Cervical Cancer Awareness Week.
Cervical Cancer - The Facts
Cervical cancer is a devastating gynaecological disease which can affect women of all ages. About 3,000 women are diagnosed every year. The survival rate after 10 years following cervical cancer is 63%. The most common risk factor for cervical cancer is HPV infection. HPV is a virus which pretty much everyone has (men and women) and is usually dormant. In some cases this virus becomes active and can mutate the cells which lead to cancer. There are many types of HPV but only two are thought at the moment to cause the majority (70%) of cervical cancers, HPV 16 and HPV 18. Women who have HPV infection and are low risk of developing cancer are classed at CIN I. These women are monitored over time and are only treated when CIN progresses to II or III. This is because the majority of cases will not develop and the treatment is stressful to the patient. The higher risk women are classed as CIN II and III. These women DO NOT have cervical cancer but are at a very high risk of developing it. These women will be treated by removing the effected area either with a laser or freezing following a biopsy. They will then be monitored to make sure the CIN does not return. Women who do have cervical cancer are usually treated with surgery such as Diathermy, LLETZ or Cone Biopsy which removes part or all of the cervical area, depending on the severeness of the disease. Surgeons do all they can to leave as much unaffected cervix as possible in order to maintain a woman's quality of life. Some women may receive chemotherapy if necessary.
Smear Tests - Prevention
Smear tests are simple, quick tests done every couple of years to check and monitor the cells of the cervix. The cervix lies at the top of the birth canal, where the womb begins. The test uses a speculum to open up the cervix and a brush, which brushes off a small amount of the cervical cells. These cells are then taken and analysed to see if there are any mutations or abnormal looking cells. In the case of pre-cancer (CIN II or CIN III) or cancer these cells are removed. In all other cases the patient is asked to return every couple of years to monitor cervical cells. The more times you go, the more likely it is a pathologist will see the changes in your cervical cells compared to the samples in the previous years.
For some women the fear of being exposed and uncomfortable outweigh the benefit of getting it done. While the NHS and other country's health care systems offer free smears, it's usually for women over the age of 25, so many feel discouraged about the cost if you're younger (in Ireland it is €100). I personally hate smear tests and find them incredibly painful (A LOT of women don't feel anything so don't be discouraged). But I have had a smear ever year since I was 18 (8 years). I bore the cost because I knew what I was giving up if I didn't, my peace of mind.
The sad fact about Cervical Cancer is it is 100% preventable. I am asking you as readers, whether you are a woman or you tell your wife, daughters, sisters etc., I am asking for you to please please please go for your smear. We could get rid of cervical cancer as a disease if we all had our smear. Take control of your bodies and your lives and do something about Cervical Cancer.
Let's get rid of this disease for good!! #smearforsmear
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My name is Caitriona and I am a PhD student at Imperial College London, UK.