Miss Basirat Towobola explains what Cervical Cancer is during Cervial Cancer Prevention Week
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb). It usually develops slowly over time and the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia, in which abnormal cells begin to appear in the cervical tissue. The abnormal cells often go back to normal themselves but may become cancer cells if not treated.
How Common is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer in females in the UK. It affects sexually active women aged 30–45 years. 1 in 142 females in the UK will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in their lifetime. Based on the 2016-18 average, there were 3197 new cervical cancer cases each year.
What causes Cervical Cancer?
The main cause of cervical cancer is persistent infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is predominantly transmitted through sexual intercourse. HPV16 and HPV18 are the high-risk (cancer-causing) types that cause most cases of cervical cancer. Most HPV infections go away on their own as the immune system controls the infection. When a high-risk HPV infection lasts for many years, it can lead to changes in the cervical cells that, if untreated, can become cancer.
Your risk of having cervical cancer can also increase if:
- You have a weakened immune status
- You become sexually active at an early age
- You use birth control pills and give birth to many children (the reasons for these associations are not well understood)
Cervical cancer is preventable
Cervical cancer is highly preventable and curable if caught early.
The HPV vaccination and routine cervical cancer screening could prevent nearly all cases of cervical cancer. The routine NHS cervical screening programme is an important way of preventing cervical cancer.
This is available in England to women aged 25-64 years of age. Immunization with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine as part of the national childhood immunization programme also helps to prevent cervical cancer. This is offered to girls aged 11+
If you are under 15, you have 2 injections, usually over 12 to 24 months. If you are 15 or over, you have 3 injections, usually over 6 months.
The HPV vaccine offers the most protection when given before a person becomes sexually active.
Condoms reduce the risk of HPV transmission but do not completely eliminate it. Condom use also protects against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, which is a risk factor for progression of HPV infection to cervical cancer.
Limiting the number of sexual partners also reduces potential exposure to HPV infection, which in turn reduces the risk of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is treatable if caught early
Talk to your GP if you experience any of these symptoms of cervical cancer:
- Unusual vaginal bleeding, bleeding after menopause or bleeding after sex
- Pain or discomfort during sex
- Pain in your lower back or pelvis
- Changes to vaginal discharge