It is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week from Jan 22-28, 2018 in the UK. Cervical cancer is caused by a very common virus and can be prevented by a vaccine that can be given to young women.
Here Dr. Anjum Ishaque, our experienced Family Medicine Specialist (GP) shares some important facts we need to know.
- 99.7% of cervical cancer cases are caused by persistent HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infection. This is a very common virus and up to 80% of people will be infected with a genital HPV infection at some time during their lives. The virus may cause no symptoms and the body normally clears it within 12-18 months. Many people remain unaware that they have even been infected. There are around 100 types of HPV out of which 13 types are considered to be associated with a high risk of cervical cancer.
- HPV Vaccination prevents infection with the two types of HPV that are associated with 70 percent of cases of cervical cancer. Most girls should have this vaccination between the ages of 11-16 to protect them from getting this infection. Research suggests that this will prevent two thirds of cases of cervical cancer in women under the age of thirty. The vaccine is given as two doses (6-12 months apart) to girls 11-15. Girls who are 16 or older will need three doses and the vaccine provides protection for at least 10 years.
- Cervical Cancer Screening is essential. A Pap smear is a screening test to detect changes to the cells of the cervix, which are called cervical abnormalities or pre-cancerous . Every sexually active woman should have one every three years as a minimum. A Gynecologist or Family Physician can perform this in their clinic and the sample is then sent to the laboratory for testing for abnormal cells as well as HPV(Human Papilloma Virus) Infection.
- In most cases the results will be normal. However if any abnormal cells are found then you may be advised to have further testing by Colposcopy. Colposcopy is simply a more detailed look at the cervix. Instead of looking at the cervix with the naked eye, the person performing the Colposcopy will use a special microscope. In this way they can see the changes at high magnification with good lighting. If any cells look abnormal you may be advised to have more frequent smears to monitor the condition or a biopsy may be taken. The detection of HPV in the sample would lead to more frequent smear testing for a few years to check that the virus has cleared and no abnormal changes have occurred in the cervix.
- Signs of cervical cancer include unusual bleeding (e.g. between periods, after the menopause etc.), discharge and pelvic or back pain. See a doctor early if you notice any of these symptoms so that you can have appropriate investigations to exclude cancer. If a diagnosis of cancer is made at an early stage, there are better chances of cure as the disease will not have spread. Depending on the stage of cancer treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.