The Jade effect: Thousands more seek information about disease

News that Jade Goody was suffering from cervical cancer led thousands more women than usual to seek information about the disease.

On the day the reality TV star was diagnosed in August 2008, Cancer Research UK witnessed 10 times the usual number of hits to its website.

Before Jade was diagnosed, the cervical cancer section of the website received around 2,000 to 3,000 hits each day.

On the day of her diagnosis, this jumped to 32,000 and visitor numbers have been two to three times higher than usual ever since.

Some cervical screening teams across the UK also reported a rise in the number of women attending their appointments for smear tests.

Historically, the number of young women attending screening has been falling all across the UK.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women under 35 but the vast majority of cases still occur in women who are older.

Among under 35s, there were just 671 new cases in the UK in 2005, compared with more than 2,300 new cases in women over this age.

Another 24,000 women get smear test results each year showing severely abnormal changes to the cells of their cervix, indicating the likelihood of cancer unless treatment is given.

Signs of cervical cancer can be picked up through smear tests, or women may experience symptoms such as bleeding between periods, after or during sex, or pain or discomfort after or during sex.

The chances of survival are good if the disease is caught early, indicating that Jade's disease was identified at a later stage.

To diagnose the disease, a woman often undergoes a colposcopy, where the doctor uses a large magnifying glass to examine the covering of the cervix.

The doctor may also take a biopsy, where a sample of tissue is removed for closer examination by trained professionals in the laboratory.

Once a diagnosis has been made, doctors can tell the woman how advanced her cancer is.

Stage 0 is when some of the cells look cancerous but are contained within the skin covering the cervix, stage 1 is where the cancer is just in the neck of the womb and stage 2 is where the cancer has begun to spread around the neck of the womb.

Stage 3 refers to when the cancer has spread into the pelvis and stage 4 - the most advanced stage - is when the cancer has spread to other body organs, as happened in Jade's case.

Early cervical cancer can be treated with surgery, which may involve removing part of the cervix or the entire womb, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

For some very early, small cervical cancers, it may be possible to treat the cancer with a cone biopsy, where the affected tissue is removed under general anaesthetic.

By stage 4, there is little or no chance of full recovery - only 15% to 30% of women with advanced cervical cancer live longer than five years.

Most cases of the disease are caused by the sexually transmitted infection, human papillomavirus (HPV), which is now being tackled via a UK-wide vaccination programme of young girls.

There are also other risk factors for cervical cancer, including smoking, with smokers being more likely to develop the disease.

Researchers have found cancer-causing chemicals from cigarette smoke in the cervical mucus of women who smoke and smokers who also have a 'high risk' type of HPV infection are twice as likely to get cervical cancer.

Women with a weakened immune system, including those who have a poor diet, have a higher risk of many cancers, including cervical cancer.

Some studies have also suggested that women who take the Pill have double the risk of cervical cancer if they have been on it for at least five years, although more research is needed in this area.

Controversy surrounded Jade's case because women in England are not invited for cervical cancer screening until they are 25.

Experts from the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes say this is because the disease is rare among young women and minor abnormalities in cells usually correct themselves.

Once cervical cells begin to change, it typically takes 10 to 15 years before invasive cervical cancer develops.

There are two main types of cervical cancer and research is still ongoing into whether one type is more aggressive than the other.

The time between Jade's diagnosis and death was just a matter of months, suggesting that her cancer was already at an advanced stage upon diagnosis.

Within five months, doctors had told her that the cancer had spread to her liver, bowel and groin - a devastating blow for the 27-year-old.

While such advanced cancer can sometimes be controlled with treatment to prolong life, Jade was was very aware she had just months to live.

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