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What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer develops in the cervix, the entrance to the womb and it often has no symptoms in its early stages. This is one of the reasons why awareness and cervical screening is so important.
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be spread through sexual intercourse. That said, HPV is relatively common and easily treatable and most women who have it do not develop cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Although the symptoms of cervical cancer are not always obvious in the early stages, some women do develop unusual vaginal bleeding between periods or after the menopause and after or during sex. Other symptoms of early stage cervical cancer include vaginal discharge that smells unpleasant and pain during intercourse. If you develop any of these symptoms it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Cervical cancer statistics
The myths Vs. The facts
Myth – I’m too young to worry about cervical cancer.
Fact – Though cervical cancer is less common in younger women it is still the most common cancer in women under 35. If you are 25 years or over you should have a regular a cervical smear test every 3 years. (8)
Myth – Cervical cancer has no symptoms.
Fact – Cervical cancer symptoms include;bleeding after intercourse, between menstrual periods or after the menopause as well as abnormal discharge or pain in the pelvic region.
Myth – Cervical cancer cannot be prevented.
Fact – Unlike most other cancers, cervical cancer is caused by environmental factors. HPV is a very common infection in sexually active adults yet almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by persistent HPV. Cervical cancer is not caused by promiscuity, but a higher number of sexual partners can increase your risk of contracting HPV. Using a condom can help protect against HPV and in turn, cervical cancer. Smoking can increase your risk of cervical cancer, as can a weakened immune system and long-term use of the contraceptive pill.
Myth – An abnormal smear test means I must have cancer.
Fact – There can be a number of reasons for obtaining abnormal results from a smear test including a lack of cells in the sample or an inflamed cervix. Abnormal results may indicate mild, moderate or severe changes in the cells in your cervix. This does not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer though and these abnormal cells can be treated effectively.
Myth – Older women do not need cervical smear tests.
Fact – Women over the age of 50 are required to have a cervical smear every 5 years. As almost three-quarters of all cervical cancer deaths occur in women aged 50 and over, this makes attending screening appointments just as important. (9)
Treatment for cervical cancer
If cervical cancer is diagnosed in its early stages it is usually possible to treat the cancer using surgery. In some cases a hysterectomy may need to be undertaken in order to try to remove all of the cancer cells. Radiotherapy uses high-energy radiation, and can also be used to treat early stage cervical cancer too – it is used alongside or instead of surgery.
Locally advanced cervical cancer is usually treated using a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, known as Chemoradiation. Advanced stage cervical cancer is treated using chemotherapy which treats cancer that has spread around the body. Chemotherapy is a treatment using cell killing (cytotoxic) drugs which can shrink and control the cancer and it’s relieve symptoms.
Prevention of cervical cancer
In the UK it is recommended that all women between the ages of 25 and 64 are regularly screened for cervical cancer. The screening, known commonly as a smear test, involves a small sample of cells being taken from the cervix. The cells are then checked for abnormalities. Most abnormal smear test results are caused by an infection or the presence of easily treatable precancerous cells.
Using protection during sexual intercourse will reduce the risk of you developing HPV which can lead to cervical cancer. The cervical cancer vaccination will protect against the two strains of this virus responsible for cervical cancer. Although these methods can reduce the risk of HPV it does not guarantee that it will not develop at some point.
At The Edinburgh Clinic we offer fast access to a one-stop clinic for gynaecological health and consultant-led assessments. We can conduct pelvic examinations, 3D ultrasounds of the ovaries and womb, cervical smear tests and blood tests and wherever possible, the results of tests will be available within the same appointment.
For more information on our Gynaecology Health Clinic or to make an appointment call us now on 0131 447 2340