Raising awareness of cervical cancer in younger women
Imogen Pinnell highlights the effect the pandemic has had on younger women accessing the care they need and reminds us of the importance of timely referral for this group
The Cervical Screening Programme is widely known to save thousands of lives every year. It is the best protection against cervical cancer, detecting high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) and cell changes which can then be monitored or treated to prevent progression to cancer. Like all screening tests, it is not foolproof and cannot prevent every diagnosis. Furthermore, with cervical screening attendance low across much of the UK, exacerbated in many parts by the current pandemic, symptom awareness remains vital.
September was Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month and we at Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust launched new research into cervical cancer symptom awareness among women aged 18 years and over. Worryingly, only 2 in 5 of those surveyed knew what the symptoms are. The lowest level of awareness was in the under 25 age group – those not yet eligible for cervical screening.
In many cancers, the signs and symptoms can be common things that may not cause alarm bells, and cervical cancer is no exception. The most common symptom is unusual vaginal bleeding (ie, in between regular periods, after sex, post-menopausal). Post-menopausal bleeding should always be a cause for concern. However, bleeding between regular periods and after sex can happen often, and for a variety of reasons, which are usually harmless – but not always.
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