Cervical cancer: the science, raising awareness & #Smearforsmear

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It might be the last day of Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, but that doesn’t mean that the campaigns need to stop! So, I thought I would do my bit again and share what you need to be looking out for, some of the numbers and, of course, a little bit of the science behind it.

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Cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer in women in the UK with around 3,200 new cases each year. Now, while survival rates are improving, still only two thirds of cervical cancer patients will survive.

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What is cervical cancer?

Cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell growth which I’ve explained in a previous blog post here. Cervical cancer develops in woman’s cervix; the entrance to the vagina, who’s job is to direct blood flow during menstruation and has a role in pregnancy too. The cells of the cervix change over a female’s lifetime. There are three main layers; the superficial zone, the midzone and the basal layer. The superficial zone is the top layer of cells where mature cells eventually die and shed in the normal process of skin shedding. The cells of the midzone are move up from the basal layer at the bottom and as they do lose their ability to divide and makes them into mature cells. New cells are produced in the basal layer to replace those that are lost. If you contract HPV or human papillomavirus, it is the basal layer that it infects.

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99.7% of cervical cancers are caused by persistent high risk HPV infections. The HPV virus can cause changes to the cervical cells which cause them to become abnormal by affecting the DNA in those cells and divide uncontrollably as I’ve previously described resulting in cervical cells that cannot function properly.

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What to look out for

The symptoms of cervical cancer are not as obvious as breast cancer perhaps. But there are still indicators that you can look out for that can include the following:

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By being aware of the things you should look out for, it increases our chances of spotting anything abnormal and catching anything as early as possible.

Unfortunately most cases of early cervical cancer though display no symptoms. But the majority of cases are preventable, so it is so important to make sure you attend you screenings.

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#Smearforsmear

This leads me on to my last point; the #smearforsmear campaign. Most cases of cervical cancer are preventable but they have to be detected in the first place; and cervical screenings do this! Something that takes only 5 minutes and can have serious implications to keep you healthy and 1 in 4 women delay their smear tests. This drops to 1 in 3 in the 25-29 age group. And the number of women attending their smear tests is continually dropping.

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So, I am doing the #smearforsmear campaign 2018 to encourage women, and especially young women, to go for their screening. It could save your life, especially as many cervical cancer cases can have no symptoms at all! The test is very simple. It involves taking a few cells from your cervix for testing. But it does not hurt – they are taken from that layer of cells that are shedding anyway remember!

Join the campaign, share your photos and book that screening you have been putting off! When you’ve done it once, then the rest will be a breeze. In the words of Nike; JUST DO IT!

Smear is not a good word, I get it! But cancer is even worse!

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Please if you have any doubts or concerns, go and see your GP. But if you want to ask any more questions about cervical cancer, please get in touch and I’ll point you in the direction of some useful sources πŸ™‚

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Science love.

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2 thoughts on “Cervical cancer: the science, raising awareness & #Smearforsmear

  1. Where is the balanced information about risk v benefit? The overtreatment rates and the potential harms and side effects that go along with that? You pretend to present science but this is just another example of the pink, fluffy screening brigade at work. You should know better.

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    1. This is a fair point and thanks for calling me out on it. I do want to say that I have just presented the science as I’m no medic or health professional but you make a valid point. Being a pathologist in my eyes is a tough job. Trying to spot the smallest of differences in a biopsy sample for example as a human being is not very easy. Plus at the moment there is no definitive way of knowing what will become cancerous or not at the early stages or even at the late. I’m actually reading a book currently that briefly discusses this balance of what is ‘morally right’ – more false positives which could lead to more individuals having potentially unnecessary treatment or false negatives where individuals could have the early stages of cancer but go under the radar. Maybe it’s an idea I can expand on in a future post, or better get someone more medically qualified to write for me. However, I will always advocate for people to know their bodies and have the tests so you can make those decisions based on having as much information as possible and what is best for the individual after a discussion with your physician.

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