Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 in the UK. With that being said, it's also a relatively preventable disease providing women have regular screenings and check-ups. With this in mind, it's important that women know the risks and symptoms of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is often undetected but there can sometimes be symptoms such as:
- Unusual bleeding between periods
- Abnormal bleeding during or after sex
- Unusual or unpleasant discharge
- Pain during sex
- Post-menopausal bleeding
What causes cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is mostly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is usually spread through sexual intercourse. HPV changes the structure of DNA in cells within the cervix, causing the cells to reproduce uncontrollably which produces a lump of tissue known as a tumour.
It's worth noting that HPV is actually a group of viruses, rather than just one specific virus. There are over 100 different strands, but types 16 and 18 carry the highest risk of cervical cancer.
The most effective way to reduce your risk of contracting cervical cancer is to ensure you're up to date with your smear tests and keep an eye out for any symptoms. If you're between the age of 25 and 64 and are registered to the NHS, you'll receive a letter every five years to remind you to book in for your cervical smear test.
Cervical cancer vaccinations are designed to provide immunity to the deadlier HPV types. Needless to say, the vaccine is more effective if you have it before becoming sexually active. With that being said, it's still worth women getting the HPV vaccine even after they've become sexually active as it can protect the body against new strands of the virus. It's worth noting that even if you've had the HPV vaccination, you should still regularly get screened for cervical cancer.
Will practicing safe sex reduce the risk of contracting HPV?
HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is surprisingly common but comes in many different strings. Whilst HPV can't fully be protected against with the use of condoms, they can reduce the risk.
If you want to find out more about cervical cancer, get in touch with your pharmacist or GP.