I'm a doctor and here's how you can STOP cervical cancer before it develops

EVERYDAY in England, two women lose their lives to cervical cancer.

It can be an aggressive disease if allowed to develop, but unlike most other cancers it can be detected and stopped years before it even starts.

The cervical cancer screening programme is not designed to detect early cancer, but to detect abnormal cells that could potentially become cancer many years later.

However, it is still important to familiarise yourself with the potential symptoms of cervical cancer, especially if you have missed screenings.

If you notice abnormal bleeding between your periods, bleeding after sex, a change in vaginal discharge or lower abdominal pain or discomfort, don’t ignore it, please go to see your GP.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that most people will get at some point during their lives.

It usually goes away on its own. But sometimes it can be long-lasting and this may cause abnormal cells to develop in your cervix.

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It’s important to detect these abnormal cells. Over time, they can turn into cancer if they are left untreated.

I’m hugely hopeful that in decades to come the HPV vaccine, which was first given in 2008, will mean this disease is very rare.

Since the vaccine’s rollout, uptake has been very high, with more than 80 per cent of 12 to 13-year-old girls having had it.

This is fantastic news, as the vaccine has been found to cut cases of cervical cancer in young women by nearly 90 per cent.

The success of the HPV vaccine programme has seen the NHS expand it to now include boys – further safeguarding girls and also protecting fellas too, as HPV can cause anal, penile and upper throat cancers as well as cervical cancer.

Stop cancer before it develops

However, cervical screening is still the most important protection we currently have against the disease.

And even if you have had the HPV vaccine, it’s important to attend smear tests regularly.

Because the jab doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.

Remember, screening is not about looking for cancer. Screening is about looking for the changes that occur years before, so cancer can be stopped before it even develops.

Cervical screening is still the most important protection we currently have against the disease. And even if you have had the HPV vaccine, it’s important to attend smear tests regularly. Because the jab doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.

So who is eligible for screening?

As long as they are registered with a GP, women aged 25 to 64 should regularly receive a letter – every three years until the age of 50, then every five years – inviting them to book an appointment for cervical screening.

Trans men and non-binary people who have a cervix must also be screened to remain safe.

You can book the appointment at your GP practice or at some sexual health clinics.

There are also specialist clinics that offer cervical screenings for people who may feel uncomfortable going to mainstream services.

CliniQ is a holistic sexual health and wellbeing service for trans people and My Body Back Project is a specialist service where women who have experienced sexual assault can access cervical screening.

I speak to lots of women who tell me they’re nervous about going for their cervical screening but it’s not as awkward as you might think.

There are lots of ways you can make the process less stressful.

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I always ask for a nurse rather than a GP when I book my appointment.

Nurses carry out far more cervical screenings, so they get more practice.

You can also ask someone to come with you or ask for a chaperone from the surgery.

You won’t be lying naked in front of your doctor or nurse, which is something a lot of people worry about.

You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down and given a paper sheet to cover yourself while you lie on the couch.

The procedure takes just a couple of minutes and whoever is taking your smear is concentrating much more on finding your cervix than they are about your bikini line.

Cervical screening saves lives. So if you’ve put off booking your appointment, use the fact it is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month as a nudge and call today.

For further info visit, nhs.uk/cervicalscreening.

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