by Miss Ghadah Ahson, Consultant Gynaecologist
Cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer in women in the UK.
The NHS Cervical Screening Programme has made a significant impact on cervical cancer mortality since it was established in 1988, saving an estimated 5,000 lives a year. Despite that approximately 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year.
Prevention is key
The main cause of cervical cancer is the persistence of certain types of HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. Giving up smoking improves natural immunity against HPV and safe sex decreases exposure to various types of HPV.
From September 2019, all girls and boys aged 12-13yrs will be offered HPV vaccination. As vaccine does not protect against all high risk HPV, girls should still have cervical screening from age 25. Regular cervical screening prevents cervical cancer by picking up pre-cancer changes as well as very early stages of cervical cancer. The treatment at this stage is very simple and effective.
What are the symptoms?
Vaginal bleeding after sex, in between periods, and unusual profuse vaginal discharge are the symptoms associated with cervical cancer. Women with any of these symptoms should always contact their GP. However, it is important to understand that these symptoms are common, often self-limiting, and not specific to cervical cancer.
The pre-cancer stage of cervical cancer does not cause any symptoms so it is extremely important for women to have regular cervical screening.
All women with abnormal cervical screening results will be referred to a Colposcopy clinic for a detailed assessment. At the clinic abnormal lesions may be treated, or a biopsy can be taken for further assessment.
The doctor or specialist nurse takes a sample of cells (a biopsy) from the abnormal area. They may ask you to go back for treatment depending on the result of the biopsy. Or in some clinics, they may offer you treatment at the same time as the colposcopy.
A doctor may request an MRI or CT scan for further assessment in advanced cancer. This is to examine, the proximity of a tumor to the nearby tissues and lymph glands and to assess for spread before deciding on definite management.
For very early microscopic focus of cancer, LLETZ (large loop excision of the transformation zone) at colposcopy, is all that is required.
For early stages of cervical cancer the best treatment, with excellent prognosis, is radical surgery to remove the entire cervix, adjacent vagina and pelvic lymph nodes . This is combined with hysterectomy where fertility is no longer desired.
Chemo-radiotherapy is the method of choice for larger tumors that are not suitable for surgical excision or have spread to other tissues or lymph glands.
If you have any concerns Miss Ghadah Ahson is available at One Hatfield Hospital either by booking directly through our Reservations Team on 01707 44 33 33 or by referral from your GP
One Hatfield is unique providing diagnostic care and same or next day appointments, and is ideally located for patients in Hatfield, St Albans, Stevenage, Watford, North London and throughout Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.