DOCTOR CALLING: The importance of cervical screening
This week, I am urging women aged 50 and over to attend regular screenings for cervical cancer.
Nearly 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the UK, yet 22 per cent of women still do not attend their cervical screening. In 2018, more than a third of diagnoses were in women over 50 and those aged 50-64 are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stage cervical cancer, with 49 per cent as stage two or later.
Cervical screening is the most effective way of preventing cervical cancer, yet figures for screening uptake in England showed a significant drop as age increased after 50. Uptake fell from 81.6 per cent for 50-54 year olds to 74.8 per cent for 55-59 year olds and 73.2 per cent for 60-64 year olds (screened within five years).
A lack of knowledge about the cause of cervical cancer and who can be affected seems to be contributing to older women (aged 50-64) not attending cervical screening. Therefore, raising public awareness of cervical cancer prevention is a priority. Public knowledge and understanding of issues, such as cervical screening, the causes of cervical abnormalities and cervical cancer and treatment, is generally low
Although rarer, there are some recognised symptoms associated with cervical cancer which women are advised to be aware of:
• Abnormal bleeding: during or after sexual intercourse, or between periods;
• Post-menopausal bleeding: if you are not on HRT or have stopped it for six weeks;
• Unusual and/or unpleasant vaginal discharge;
• Discomfort or pain during sex;
• Lower back pain.
I can’t stress enough the importance of women having regular cervical screening. It is estimated that the screening programme saves 5,000 lives each year in the UK.
During the early stages, cervical cancer will often not have any symptoms and the best way for it to be detected is through screening. Any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing. Prevention is the key to improving survival rates and cervical screening will save lives.