Did you spot that Cervical Cancer Prevention week ran from 20th-26th of January this year? Neither did we! It’s a bit of a contrast to 2008 when the disease was much talked about. Firstly the NHS launched a vaccination for the disease. Then reality TV star Jade Goody had a high profile but sadly losing battle with the problem. Cervical cancer was constantly in the media and awareness in the UK peaked.
The NHS campaign to vaccinate Year 8 girls at school goes quietly on. But memories are short lived and at the other end of the spectrum, four years on, and despite Jade’s efforts, cervical cancer screening in the UK is at a 10 year low. More and more woman – especially young ones – are putting off getting screened every year.
Worldwide more than 275,000 women die from cervical cancer a year. According to Cancer research it is the most common cancer in women under 35 and 2,830 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK, 940 of those being fatal.
HPV is spread by sexual contact (interestingly Nuns never get it). That’s why the NHS introduced a HPV vaccination called Gardasil in 2008 in schools for girls aged 12-13. Have the jab before you become sexually active and you do a huge amount to reduce their risk of developing it later on in life. The vaccination programme is delivered largely through secondary schools all over the UK, and consists of three injections that are given over the course of 12 months.
It’s estimated that 400 lives are saved each year as a result of the vaccination. There is a catch-up programme for girls under 18 who didn’t get the jab so if you didn’t have the vaccination get it from your GP. The NHS does not currently vaccinate girls over 18 because Gardasil is more before you engage in sexual activity. It is possible to have the vaccination privately, but it comes at a price!
This is a huge mistake. Cervical cancer is a frontline killer. It’s caused by something called Human Papilloma Virus or HPV (click on the link for symptoms, prevention and medical stuff). The first year-group of girls vaccinated will now be approaching 16. In general you don’t get your first PAP smear test until you’re 24. By our maths that means that even now there is a ‘forgotten generation’ of over 2,000,000 18-24 year old women who need to know their options to make sure they don’t end up like Jade.
You’ll hear us say time and time again at DW that early diagnosis is the key to survival. If Jade was alive today and could have her time again she would at least have had her first smear test 3 years earlier than her diagnosis. Whether that would have saved her is open to question, but she would had a far greater chance of survival.
Taken at face value this means the NHS must consider any girls aged 18 or over to be sexually ‘experienced’. True the incidence of cervical cancer goes up the more partners you have but, even in this day and age, we think that’s a little harsh. It’s not our place to comment on the sexual habits of individuals, but we think this seriously undervalues the amount of girls out there who haven’t rushed into sexual activity.
If you are healthily interested and active sexually one of the problems for the forgotten generation is that there are few obvious symptoms of cervical cancer. Only when the disease progresses into advanced stages do symptoms become more noticeable. Even then the first symptoms such as vaginal bleeding and pain during sex often go ignored. Screenings (pap or ‘smear’ tests) are the only sure way of detecting abnormal cells. Cancer Research claims that 45% of diagnosed cases could have actually been prevented with a smear test.
Early detection and treatment is vital. So, if you’re female and having regular sex, especially with a range of partners, regular screening is essential. Scientists are trying to develop a vaccine for guys but that hasn’t happened yet.
The lesson Cervical Cancer Prevention week aims to teach young people is that, at an age when we all consider ourselves immortal, our health is in our hands. Continually bringing awareness to this type of cancer is important. Especially for those girls who missed the vaccination programme in 2008. Teaching everyone the details is key in helping persuade young woman, particularly those in their 20’s to not only book a cervical screening appointment, but to actually turn up!
For more information on Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and anything relating to cervical cancer, visit the cancer research website http://www.cancerresearchuk.org
If you’re worried you might have any of the symptoms of cervical cancer you must go and see your GP.