Health & Safety

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Cervical Cancer

16 January 2010

Cervical cancer is preventable but kills 2,000 women a year in Britain.

cervical cancer awareness ribbon

The cervix is the lower part of the womb, it is sometimes referred to as the neck of the womb. Each month, the lining of the womb sheds causing bleeding, commonly known as a period. Cancer of the neck of the womb occurs frequently in women who are under 35 years old. Breast cancer is the only other cancer to occur more often within this age group.

In the UK, approximately 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. If all women had regular smear tests this number could be drastically reduced. Early treatment can also ensure that women are still able to have children.

There are two main types of cervical cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type and develops from the flat cells that cover the outer surface of the cervix at the top of the vagina,
  • Adenocarcinoma develops from the glandular cells which line the cervical canal (endocervix) and can therefore be more difficult to detect using cervical screening tests.

Most Doctors surgeries and health practices now provide a women's health screening service. Usually you will be sent a letter inviting you to attend for cervical screening but if not, you should make enquiries to your General Practitioner. The screening for cervical cancer, which should be done at least every three years, involves a simple, painless, smear being taken from the cervix.

Cancer of the cervix usually takes many years to develop. The symptoms of cervical cancer are not always obvious and it may not cause any symptoms at all until it has reached an advanced stage. This is why it is extremely important you to have regular cervical smear tests. If cervical cancer does cause symptoms, the most common is abnormal bleeding, such as between periods, or after sexual intercourse. In post-menopausal women there may be new bleeding. There are many other conditions that have similar symptoms. It is important that you visit your GP or practice nurse if you have them. Other symptoms of cervical cancer may include smelly vaginal discharge, and discomfort when having sex.

Telephone help line

Cancerbackup Freephone helpline, staffed by cancer nurse specialists (Monday to Friday, 9am - 8pm): 0808 800 1234.