What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer arises from the cervix of the uterus. The cervix is the cylinder-shaped neck of tissue that connects the vagina and uterus. In the United Kingdom, approximately 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. Approximately 850 women die of cervical cancer every year.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms may be bleeding after sexual intercourse or vaginal examination, spotting or light between or following periods, and increased vaginal discharge. Other symptoms may include menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual, pain during intercourse, unexplained or persistent pelvic or back pain. It is important to remember that cervical cancer is very rare especially in women who have had regular smears.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed? What tests are needed?
A colposcopy is often performed following an abnormal smear, for assessment of certain symptoms such as bleeding after sex OR persistent vaginal discharge OR if your GP is concerned about the appearance of your cervix.
It allows the specialist to assess the cervix and grade any abnormalities if present.
The examination may show a normal cervix or low grade or high grade changes. Your specialist will explain the findings. Depending on your clinical circumstances, you may or may not need treatment.
If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, your specialist may recommend an examination under anesthesia with a camera test to look into the urinary bladder (water bag) and the rectum (back passage). Special test such as MRI scan and CT scan may be needed to diagnose the extent of the cancer.
How is cervical cancer treated?
The treatment of cervical cancer is either surgery or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These 2 treatment modalities i.e. surgical and non-surgical treatment is rarely combined due to a high complication rate.
More than half the cervical cancers diagnosed in the UK are very early (microinvasive or stage 1A) and are treated by local treatment by removing the cells. This treatment can be carried out either under local or a short general anaesthesia.
When the stage of cancer is less than stage 1B1, extensive surgery is needed. In a selected group of patients, fertility sparing surgery may be offered. When the cancer is bigger than 4 cm and/or the cells have gone beyond cervix, treatment with chemotherapy and radiotherapy is needed
I’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer what is the prognosis?
Cervical cancer survival in the United Kingdom has improved over the last 40 years. Survival is related to the stage of cervical cancer diagnosed. Most patients are diagnosed in stage 1 or 2. More than 96% of women survive at 5 years after the diagnosis and treatment of stage 1 cervical cancer.
Are there any support groups or networks you could recommend?
Jo’s Trust provides invaluable support and reliable, validated information to women regarding cervical screening, abnormal smears as well as cervical cancer. It is an amazing charity and London Gynaecology has actively fundraised for Jo’s Trust over last 3 years.
What can you do minimise your risks?
In the UK the HPV vaccine is offered to girls in year 8 (age 12 and 13) to protect them against cervical cancer. The vaccine provides a high degree of protection against cervical cancer however it does not provide full protection. The new vaccine (Gardasil 9) prevents 90% and the old vaccine prevents 70% of all cervical cancer. Therefore, it is very important that you still attend regular screening even if you have been vaccinated to reduce your risk and have maximum protection.
Smear tests identify potentially harmful cells before they become cancerous and ensure women get the correct treatment as soon as possible. Because of this, regular screening can help stop cervical cancer before it starts. Women over the age of 25 should have a smear test every 3 years.
Cervical cancer takes a long time to develop (approximately 15 years) which means that one would have five opportunities (smear tests) for detecting any abnormalities. This makes it safe to have a smear test every three years.
Having said that, sometimes a smear test can be falsely negative as it is a screening test and not a diagnostic test. A negative smear test means ‘low risk’ and not ‘no risk’. It is therefore important to see your GP, gynaecologist or practice nurse, if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above.
Make an appointment
We are pleased to have introduced online booking which allows patients to book directly with any member of team if you are concerned. For appointment enquiries, please call our team on 020 7101 1700. or email [email protected] or visit our online booking portal here.