The cervix is a cylindrical shaped passage, around two to three centimetres long that connects the uterus to the vagina. The cervix has three skin layers or ‘zones’. It is the top layer of skin that is tested for abnormal cells during a smear test.
HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a common virus amongst sexually active adults. Most likely you will not be aware that you have the virus and usually the immune system will get rid of it naturally. However, sometimes HPV can cause changes to the nature of the cells in the cervix, creating abnormal cells. If left unchecked these abnormal cells can become cancerous.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
Every year in the UK, over 3,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 35 and under.
Almost all cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus. There are over 100 different strains of HPV, two of these are known to cause over 70% of all cervical cancers. Even though most cases of HPV are dealt with by your own immune system, HPV can last in the body for years. It can take a considerable amount of time, then, for cells to mutate.
It’s important to note that most cases of HPV do not result in cancer.
Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer can be hard to detect outside of your regular screening. That’s why it’s important to look after your general health, have regular pap (smear) tests and be sensible about your sexual health. These key points will help minimise risk:
- Practice safe sex (use condoms). This will prevent, to some extent, the spread of HPV.
- Stop smoking.
- Make sure your diet is healthy and varied.
- Make sure your daughters get their HPV vaccine.
- Attend regular screening.
What Can I Expect From My Pap (Smear) Test?
Smear tests are a quick (around 3 minutes) and simple procedure in which a sample (swab) of the top layer of skin from your cervix is taken to test for abnormalities. You might not like the idea of being investigated in sensitive areas, but it’s good to remember that this short test can save your life and that medical professionals carry out these tests all the time; they can help if you are nervous.
A speculum, usually lubricated, is inserted into the vagina. The speculum will then be opened slightly so that the medical practitioner can see your cervix. A special brush, like a long cotton bud, is then used to gently rub off some of the cells from your cervix. The sample is sent off for investigation.
What Are The Symptoms Of Cervical Cancer?
Unfortunately, cervical cancer has few or no symptoms early on. This is why it is so important to keep up to date with your smear. There are some symptoms that present themselves (although bear in mind that some of these can be signs of other gynaecological issues too):
- Vaginal bleeding
- a. During sex
- b. After sex
- c. After the menopause
- d. In between periods
- Unusual or smelly vaginal discharge
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Lower back pain
- Uncomfortable or painful sex
Dr Eskander, renowned Gynaecologist and Director of The Gynae Centre, explains: “If high grade cell abnormality is detected, this is investigated with microscopic examination of the cervix and sometimes biopsy of the cervix (Colposcopy). These are both simple procedures carried out with little discomfort as an outpatient under local anaesthesia. Should the biopsy confirm high grade changes, it is removed with minor surgery called Loop Excision (LLETZ), again under local. This results in total cure in 90% of cases. Follow up smears are recommended annually to pick up recurrence – usually due to persistence of the HPV virus.”
As with all cancers, the earlier the diagnosis, the better. If found early, chances of survival past five years are 80-99% (for stage one). If cancer is detected at stage four, this figure shrinks to just 20%.
Depending on your stage of cancer, your treatment will be tailored to be most effective. Treatments for cervical cancer include:
Surgery (particularly for early detection cases).
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy (for large cancers and those that have spread).
Other life extending drugs.
Around 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. 1,000 women will die from cervical cancer each year.
Time and again we read stories of women who don’t keep their screening up to date; women who are nervous of having smear tests; and women who ignore important gynaecological anomalies for too long.
Dr Eskander, says: “It’s so important to keep up to date with your screening; it could save your life.
“Whether your symptoms are related to cervical cancer or not, any form of vaginal bleeding should be investigated by your gynaecologist. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms I would highly recommend booking in a consultation at your earliest convenience.
“At The Gynae Centre we can perform an investigation by ultrasound to understand the cause and recommend appropriate treatment. We also offer a Well Woman Check which includes cervical cancer screening and we deal quickly and effectively with abnormal smear results.”
Here at The Gynae Centre we provide comprehensive screening and same day appointments are available to put your mind at ease. We make sure you receive the best screening and treatment available when it suits you. Simply call us now on 020 7580 8090 to arrange a consultation with Dr Eskander.