By Amy Hunt
Any type of cancer is terrifying, and cervical cancer is no exception.
Sadly, this disease is one of the most prevalent female cancers. According to reports from 2014-2016, it affects around 3,192 women every year and is responsible for 852 deaths annually, between 2015 and 2017. It's also the 17th most common cancer in the UK.
So what is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer, as you would expect, develops in a woman's cervix, which is the entrance to the womb from the vagina. It is when abnormnal or cancerous cells grow on the cervix. And frustratingly, it's a tricky type of cancer to diagnose. Often, symptoms won't present themselves in the early stages of the disease, meaning it's harder to catch when it's more treatable and before it reaches the advanced stages.
But there are some common signs of cervical cancer that you should definitely be aware of, and things you should immediately get checked out if you notice them.
So what are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
This is often the first and most obvious sign of cervical cancer. If you have cervical cancer, the first sympton may well be bleeding after sex, or bleeding at any time other than your monthly period.
The NHS notes that while not all abnormal bleeding means you're suffering from cervical cancer, it's an important symptom to get checked out if you notice it is happening.
Blood in your urine
You may also notice bleeding when you go to the toilet - this is another symptom you should definitely go to your doctor about urgently to have investigated.
Pain during sex
If you notice that sex is painful and uncomfortable, it's likely to be something less sinister that cervical cancer, however it can be a sign of the disease.
A very common symptom which probably doesn'tindicate cervical cancer - but an important one to note of IF you're experiencing the other signs of cervical cancer listed.
Other signs of cervical cancer
Those are the four most common symptoms of cervical cancer, but there are other, lesser known ones. Changes can also occur in other parts of your body too.
Some more signs of cervical cancer can include:
- bone pain
- swelling in one of your legs
- severe back pain
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- a general lack of energy and tiredness.
If you're experincing any of these symptoms you should visit a doctor. However, it's important to note that the above symptoms don't neccessarily point to cervical cancer. And some, especially irregular or unusual bleeding, can indicate that you have a cervical polypA, which prognonis is generally very good for.
But what is a cervical polyp?
A cervical polyp is a small tumour on the cervix - but don't worry, they're usually completely benign. They're most common in women in their 40s and 50s, and found largely in women who have had more than one child.
However, in very rare cases, cervical polyp's can be an early sign of cancer, so it's best to get it checked out and removed if you find that you do have one. Poylp's are generally removed easily, so if you can, it's always the best option to get surgery and get them removed.
What about the cervical cancer vaccine?
Given that cervical cancer is one of the hardest cancers to catch early, it means that the cervical cancer vaccine is of vital importance.
Brought out in 2007, the cervical cancer vaccinaton programme uses a drug call Gardasil, which protects against the two strains of the disease responsible for 70% of all cases.
The vaccine isgiven to girls when they're12-13 years old, with three doses givenover a six-month period.
But even if you've managed to have the vaccination, it doesn't mean you're immune from getting the disease. So it's key that you still keep up your regular smear tests.
Cell changes within the cervix can be detected at a very early stage, which is why regular smear tests for women aged 25 and over are absolutely key for the best chance at catching and curing the disease in time.
Women who are between the ages of 25-49 will be invited for a screening every three years, and women who are 50-64 will be offered one every 50-64 years. However, women over 65 will only be offered the three-yearly test if they've had problems before.
Of course, if you've already suffered from cervical cancer but have recovered, or have had a close call at some point, you'll be invited for screenings more regularly than the standard three years. But if you've so far had no problems, the three years between screenings is generally considered adequate.
What is the cervical cancer survival rate?
Sadly, the cervical cancer survival rate is still not as high as you'd hope. 63% of women diagnosed survive the disease for 10 years or more, according to figures from 2011 from Cancer Research UK. And while it's not nearly enough women surviving the disease - it's a good start.
Notably, the highest survival rates are in younger women, with them slowly going down as age increases.
In 2014, there were more than 2 deaths every day from the disease, and it now accounts for 1% of all cancer deaths in females.
But there's good news. In the past 10 years, cervical cancer mortality rates in females have decreased by almost a quarter in the UK. Similarly, mortality rates for cervical cancer are projected to fall by 7% in the UK between 2014 and 2035, to 3 deaths per 100,000 females by 2035.
As ever, we're always keeping our fingers crossed for a cure.
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