Today marks the start of the 8th annual Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, which is a campaign led by the European Cervical Cancer Association (ECCA).
In 2011, in the UK alone, 970 women died from cervical cancer, which equates to more than 2 deaths every day. That is a tragically high number given the fact that cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease.
So, what causes cervical cancer?
- 99.7% of cervical cancer cases are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), transmitted through intimate contact with an infected person. HPV is so common that 4 out of 5 people (80%) will contract it at some point in their lives.
- Women who smoke have a 50% increased risk of cervical cancer, with various possible aetiologies.
- Women who have a long-term history of taking oral-contraceptives have an increased risk of cervical cancer, however, this outcome is very likely to be related to sexual behaviour rather than oral-contraceptive use alone.
- There is an increased risk for women with a mother and/or sister who has a history of cervical cancer. This is a risk factor known as “familial aggregation” – a result of similar lifestyles and sexual behaviours, as opposed to cervical cancer being hereditary.
- A list of other, less common, causes of cervical cancer can be found here.
How can cervical cancer be prevented?
- Regular cervical screening will decrease your risk by detecting any early warning signs. This will make treating those early changes to your cervix a lot easier and less drastic than if they were neglected and allowing them to progress into cancer.
When you receive your letter inviting you to book a cervical screening appointment, please do follow that up. It’s a completely free service in the UK, and it could save your life.
If you are worried about cervical screening or your results, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust have a helpline dedicated to offering you trustworthy advice, so please don’t hesitate to call them on 0808 802 8000.
- Reducing your risk of becoming infected with persistent HPV is the next best thing you can try to do because HPV is the cause of almost all cervical cancers.
There are a number of ways you can do this:
– The simplest and easiest way is to keep your immune system strong. It is a common fact that your body’s own immune system can eradicate both high- and low-risk HPV infections, so just by eating well, taking regular exercise, not smoking, and generally looking after your health, you can boost your immune system.
– It is very difficult to protect yourself completely from HPV transmitted through intimate contact because the virus can also live on the skin around the genitals. By using a condom, however, you can at least help reduce the risk of internal HPV infection.
– There are HPV vaccinations available to protect against the most common high- and low-risk HPV strains, and these are offered in the UK to all girls between the ages of 12-13. For more information about the vaccine, please see here.
Please be aware: not everyone who has a HPV infection will get cervical cancer, it is just that almost all cervical cancers are HPV positive.
- Stopping smoking will reduce your risk of cervical cancer by preventing the various reasons given in the link previously shared.
Are there any symptoms?
While there are no symptoms of HPV infection, there are some symptoms of cervical cancer to be aware of:
If you would like more information about cervical cancer prevention, HPV, and cervical screening, please contact Jo’s Trust:
If you would like to become an advocate for raising awareness about cervical cancer prevention, there are a number of ways you can get involved with Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. Start a conversation online using the #CCPW hashtag, share your story, and help spread the word….you could help save a life.