Over 20% of women think that cervical screening is an unnecessary health test – yet cervical cancer is the second most deadly disease amongst women. More than 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK. It is also one of the most preventable cancers – when caught early enough; the five-year survival rate is nearly 100%.
Why are women putting off their smear tests, or even worse not going at all?
In 2009, cervical cancer hit the headlines when Big Brother star Jade Goody passed away from the disease, at the young age of 27. Following the announcement, more than 400,000 extra women were tested for the cancer in the seven months between her diagnosis and death.
Research has recently shown that unfortunately, the ‘Jade effect’ has worn off in the years following her death, with over 33% of women regularly missing their smear test.
Women are invited to a smear test when they turn 25 and every three years thereafter, providing normal results are returned. This can vary depending on family history, the display of abnormal cells and other health related issues.
The excuses vary – work commitments, recent childbirth, phobia of the doctors or downright fear of having an examination of that kind. It is likely that some ladies can slip through the net as they change address and doctors surgeries.
Cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus in nearly all cases, which is transmitted through contact (although contrary to popular belief, not just penetrative). If the results are normal, the GP will send a letter within two weeks, and patients will be recalled again in three years. 93% of results come back as normal, 2% of results come back as inadequate – which means that not enough cells were collected and the patient will have to wait for cells to grow back before being retested.
However, scientists in China have published new research which claims that laser beams can be used to detect cancerous cells without the requirement of a biopsy or smear test.
Although it is in its early stages, the new technology known as photoacoustic imaging, involves firing pulses of light which is absorbed better by cancerous cells than healthy tissue. The way the cells react to the light can then be picked up by an ultrasound scan.
Until this research has progressed to a stage where it can replace the standard cervical screening procedure, it is imperative that all women eligible for a screening do attend as soon as possible.
Here at Fletchers, we unfortunately see cases where diagnosis has been delayed – do not let it be because you did not attend the appointment when it was offered to you.