In the UK, up to nine women per day are diagnosed with cervical cancer. On average, a third of these women lose their lives to the disease.
This type of cancer is most common for women under 35, but luckily is can be prevented and effectively treated with regular smear tests available to women over 25 as well as HPV vaccinations.
What are the earliest signs of cervical cancer?
During the early stages of cervical cancer, you may not see any symptoms at all.
Dr Schaefer explained: “The first to appear are typically unusual discharge or bleeding. As the cancer progresses, some other subtle signs might include constipation, blood in the urine, loss of appetite or fatigue. However, it is important to note that these signs alone are not indicative of cancer but, if they are, they won’t be warning signs but symptoms of the cancer progressing.
“This is why it is so important to attend your screenings regularly. In the UK, screenings are routinely offered to women from the age of 25 and repeated every three years.”
Below are six subtle symptoms of cervical cancer.
1. Vaginal discharge that is unusual in terms of smell, colour or amount
2. Abnormal bleeding between periods
3. Bleeding after intercourse
4. Increased menstrual bleeding
5. Pelvic pain
6. Pain during intercourse
While these symptoms don’t necessarily point to cervical cancer, they are reason enough to see your GP.
What should you do if you think you have cervical cancer?
The first thing you need to do is make an appointment with your GP.
Dr Schaefer said: “The GP can then conduct a screening, which means that any cell changes can be caught before they become cancerous, or at the earliest stages.
“In the UK, the NHS offers cervical screening for women aged between 25 and 49 every three years, while women aged between 50 and 64 can be screened every five years. Those aged over 65 who have been screened in the past no longer need to be screened.
“A pap screening allows the doctor to test for any cell changes and deal with potential cancerous cells before they become cancerous, while an HPV test screens for the most common risk factor for cervical cancer, HPV. This is a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cell changes and eventually to cancer. An HPV test can also be used in cases where a pap screening is inconclusive.”
Is there any way to prevent cervical cancer?
While there is no way to completely prevent cervical cancer, there are some things you can do to decrease your chances of developing it.
“Girls between the ages of 12-13 are offered the cervical cancer vaccination, which protects against four types of HPV,” Dr Schaefer said. “While the vaccine doesn’t guarantee that you will never develop the cancer, it does reduce the risks.
“Practising safe sex can also decrease your chances of developing cervical cancer, as HPV, spread through sex and sexual contact, is linked to cervical cancer. Lastly, smoking can increase your risks of developing cervical cancer, for smokers are less able to rid the body of the HPV infection.”
If you think you might have symptoms relating to cervical cancer, make an appointment with your GP.