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Health Wise: The importance of cervical screening

While our occupational health services are focused on health and wellbeing in the workplace, the team at Fusion also want to make sure that people are as clued up as they can be when it comes to their general health.

Regular health screenings are an important part of everyone’s life. For women, none more so than their cervical screening or smear tests.

Last year we looked at the importance of smear tests in our blog highlighting Cervical Screening Awareness Week 2018 and this month, from the 21st to the 27th of January, is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.

We take another look at why a smear test is so important and how the NHS Cervical Screening Programme has made such a significant impact.

Gynaecological Cancers

Gynaecological cancer is a term which is used to refer to the five cancers that start in a woman’s reproductive system:

  • Ovarian cancer - in one or both ovaries
  • Cervical cancer - of the neck of the womb
  • Vulval cancer - of the external female sex organs
  • Vaginal cancer - of the birth canal (vagina)
  • Womb cancer - also known as endometrial cancer or uterine cancer

Unfortunately, awareness levels of these cancers are very low.

Combined, they are the UK’s third largest cancer killer of women, with cervical cancer the most common cancer in women aged 35 and under.

The facts about cervical cancer

Every day in the UK, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and two women lose their lives from the disease.

In most cases, cervical cancers are caused by persistent infections with a virus called high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV). While HPV is a very common virus, cervical cancer is rare.

During our lives, 4 out of 5 of us will get some type of HPV. Most types don’t cause cervical cancer and you may not even know that you had it because your body’s immune system will fight the infection.

For a small number of women, persistent infection can cause the cells of the cervix to become abnormal which, if not monitored or treated, could develop into cancer.

The best way to find out if you might have abnormal cervix cells is by attending a cervical screening when you receive an invitation.

The symptoms of cervical cancer

There are some recognised symptoms associated with cervical cancer that you should be aware of, including;

  • Abnormal bleeding: during or after sexual intercourse, or between periods
  • Post-menopausal bleeding: if you are not on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or have stopped it for six weeks or more
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse
  • Lower back pain.

If you experience any of these symptoms you should make an appointment to see your GP.

The Jade Goody Effect

This year is the 10th anniversary of the death of TV reality star Jade Goody, who sadly died of cervical cancer on the 22nd of March, 2009.

Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

After her death, nearly half a million more women attended their cervical screening.

Dubbed the ‘Jade Goody Effect’ it shone a much-needed light on the low attendance figures for cervical screening and, at least initially, resulted in more women going to their smear test.

Unfortunately, that figure reached a 20-year low in 2018.

Despite the fact that 75% of cervical cancers are prevented by cervical screening, one in four women do not attend this potentially life-saving test.

The importance of cervical screening (smear tests)

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme was established in 1988. Since then, it has made a huge difference to cervical cancer mortality rates, saving an estimated 5,000 lives a year.

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week aims to raise awareness so that as many people as possible know how they can reduce their risk of the disease and to educate others.

Some women don’t attend due to a lack of knowledge about cervical cancer and the purpose of cervical screening.

Many feel embarrassed about the test or are afraid that it will hurt or result in a diagnosis of cancer.

But it’s vital that you don’t ignore the invitation letter because it’s one of the main ways to reduce your risk of cervical cancer.

#SmearForSmear

To encourage more women to attend their smear test, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is launching their #SmearForSmear campaign during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.

Women simply post a selfie of themselves smearing their lipstick.

They hope that it will serve as a reminder to book a smear test.

And finally, here are the four simple things that women can do to help reduce the risk of cervical cancer:

  • Attend your cervical screening
  • Know the symptoms of cervical cancer
  • HPV Vaccinations for 11-18-year-olds
  • Know where to go to find support and information

If you’d like to find out how our occupational health services can help businesses provide their female employees with support and advice, contact us today.

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Categories: EmployeesHealth & WellbeingHealth WiseOccupational Health

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