World Cancer Day: Charity urges women to get smear tests to reduce risk of developing hard-to-spot cervical cancer

Cervical cancer does not show symptoms until it is at an advanced stage 

Kashmira Gander
Thursday 04 February 2016 11:04

Young women are at an unnecessary risk of developing cervical cancer, which is almost symptomless until it is reaches an advanced stage, because of negative attitudes towards smear tests, experts have warned on World Cancer Day.

Over one in ten women do not book smear tests at all – meaning that abnormalities in the cervix go unnoticed, a new survey has shown.

This puts women in their 20s and 30s at risk of developing cancer, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust said of the results of its survey of 2,100 women as it urged women to "overcome embarrassment."

Women are invited to have a cervical screening test every three years between the ages of 25 to 49-years-old, reducing to five years between the ages of 50 to 64. After this age only women with abnormalities or no previous screenings are asked to take a smear test.

The poll found that less than 40 per cent of women aged between 25 to 34 book a smear test as soon as they receive an invitation, while a further 50 per cent wait a year.

This is despite the fact that the survival rate for women with cervical cancer is 96 per cent, when the cancer is found at its earliest stage.

But only 39 per cent of women surveyed were aware of this fact.

And while three quarters of women have heard of cervical cancer, only 14 per cent felt confident that they would recognise its signs and symptoms.

Early cervical cancer symptoms are not always obvious, according to the NHS. In most cases, vaginal bleeding is the first sign – which can be confused with an irregular period.

Other symptoms can include pain during sex and unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge.

In the advanced stages, a woman with cervical cancer may experience constipation, blood in the urine, urinary incontinence, bone pain, swelling in the legs, and severe pain in the side or back caused by swelling kidneys. They may also lose weight as well as their appetite, and feel tired and lethargic.

Women who experience unusual vaginal bleeding or any of the advanced symptoms should visit a GP, according to the NHS.

Cervical cancer hit headlines in 2009, after the death of reality TV personality Jade Goody. During this time, awareness of screening and in turn diagnosis peaked, however this has since dropped, said Dr Karen Whitmarsh, consultant in clinical oncology and specialist in gynaecological cancers at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.

"Sadly, that awareness has reduced again as cervical cancer hits the headlines less, and as these new figures show, young women are again missing opportunities to potentially save their lives."

"It’s really worrying that women are not prioritising their smear test, either waiting too long to book it, or ignoring the test altogether. In the age of programmes like Embarrassing Bodies, the perception is that we’re all open to talking about intimate issues, but these statistics show that isn’t the case.

"When women can overcome their embarrassment and nerves about discussing these conditions, experts will be able to diagnose conditions such as cervical cancer earlier and ultimately save more lives."

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