WOMEN in the UK have missed over half a million cervical cancer checks putting them at increased risk, a charity has warned.
Rates of attendance for smear tests were already low before the pandemic and it is now feared that the backlog caused by Covid-19 will take months to clear.
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Charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust said if services had been operating normally then around 600,000 tests would have been carried out in the UK in April and May.
Many were cancelled or delayed because of the pandemic.
The missed appointments add to a 1.5 million backlog of appointments that are missed over a 12 months period.
Smear tests help spot cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer and women are encouraged to go for regular tests.
The early signs of cervical cancer to look out for
Not all women diagnosed with cervical cancer have symptoms, which is why it’s really important to attend cervical screening (smear tests) when invited.Early signs can include:
1. Abnormal bleeding (during or after sex, between periods and also post-menopause)
The most common and earliest sign of cervical cancer tends to be irregular bleeding.
It happens when the cancer cells grow on the tissue below the cervix.
It's an especially alarming sign in postmenopausal women who no longer have periods. There's no age limit to developing cervical cancer.
2. Unusual vaginal discharge
Everyone's discharge is different, so it's a case of knowing what is normal for you.
If you find that the colour, smell and consistency has changed, then that's something you really need to have checked out.
When cancer lacks oxygen, it can cause an infection which leads to strange smelling discharge.
3. Discomfort or pain during sex
Pain during sex can be a sign of a number of different issues, but one is cervical cancer.
Because the disease often comes with no symptoms, pain during intercourse is one of the key indicators. It can be a sign that the cancer is spreading to surrounding tissues.
4. Lower back pain
It could be down to you straining something in the gym, or it could be a warning sign that something's wrong with your reproductive organs.
Persistent pain – just one off twinges – in the lower back, pelvis or appendix can be a symptom of cervical cancer.
5. Unintended weight loss
While effortless weight loss might sound like the answer to many of our prayers, it's never a good sign if it happens seemingly without cause.
A loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss tend to be signs that the body isn't working properly – it's trying to conserve energy. If you notice that you're not eating as you normally do, go to your GP.
The NHS has pushed smear tests as one of its major campaigns and women between the age of 25 and 64 are invited for screening.
Each year five million women are invited for screening with just 3.5 million attending appointments.
The charity estimates that 571,000 tests would have been carried out in England between April and May.
This is while in Scotland 68,000 would have been carried out.
In Wales 28,500 would have been undertaken.
The charity did not have the figures for Northern Ireland but said that nearly 40 per cent of women they surveyed were “concerned by cancellations”.
Between 29th May and 9th June 2020 the charity surveyed 851 women.
One in eight women said that they would be less likely to attend and around 13 per cent of those surveyed said they would put off cervical screening for the time being.
Over two million people in the UK have been unable to access screening for cancer over the past few months because of the pandemic.
So far in the UK over 42,000 people have died from the virus and experts have said many more may die from cancer if screening and treatment does not continue.
Professor Karol Sikora previously warned that cancer cut backs could cause 60,000 premature deaths.
While NHS services insist they are open for business, many people simply just don’t feel comfortable going to a surgery or hospital.
The survey found that over a quarter of women are worried about catching Covid-19 if they attend an appointment.
The chief executive of the charity, Robert Music said we need to prevent Covid-19 making it harder for women to access tests.
“We want every woman to have the information and support they need to feel able to make decisions about their health.
“This includes understanding the measures GP practices and sexual health services are putting in to keep patients safe.
“For those working in primary care, being mindful of new concerns as a result of coronavirus is important to ensure the right support can be given to women due cervical screening.”
Cervical cancer is one of the more deadly forms of the disease if it's left untreated.
Catch it at the earliest stage – stage 1 – and you have the highest chance of surviving it. But get diagnosed at stage 4, and you've only got a 5 per cent chance of surviving five years or longer.
That's why it's absolutely crucial that you know what changes to look out for and get them tested ASAP.
According to Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, around 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK.
It's the most common form of the disease in women aged 35 and under.
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