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Cervical cancer: what you need to know

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Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 years old, with around 3,100 women in the UK being diagnosed each year according to Cancer Research. Therefore, it's important to know what symptoms to look out for, as well as ensuring that you go for regular cervical screenings to catch any early signs of the cancer developing.

We take a look at what cervical cancer is, and the key symptoms to be aware of…

gp© Photo: iStock

Cervical cancer affects around 3,100 in the UK every year 

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a cancer that starts in the neck of the womb, called the cervix. It can be caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed on through sexual contact. There are over 100 types of HPV and while many are harmless, certain types can cause abnormal changes to the cells in the cervix which could lead to the cancer's development.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom for cervical cancer is bleeding from the vagina, at times other than when you are having your period – for example in between your periods, as well as during or after sex. Some women also experience discomfort or pain during sex, as well as an unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge.

If the cancer spreads outside of your cervix and affects the surrounding tissue, it can trigger other symptoms including constipation, blood in your urine, swelling of your legs, loss of bladder control, or a severe pain in your side or back, which can be caused by the swelling of kidneys. A loss of appetite and a lack of energy can also be symptoms.

However, it is important to know that the cervix's pre-cancerous cells do not usually have symptoms – which is why it's important to have regularly cervical screenings.

doctor© Photo: iStock

It's important to go for regular cervical screenings

What is a cervical screening?

A screening – also known as a smear test – is in place to test apparently healthy people for signs that could show the cancer is starting to develop. It can be a key way in preventing cancer by finding and treating any early signs of changes in the womb.

During the test, the nurse or doctor will take a sample of cells from the cervix with a small brush, and then send it to a laboratory to be checked for abnormalities.

In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, women from ages 25 to 49 are invited by the NHS cervical screening programme for free tests every three years. After that, they are invited every five years until the age of 64.  

What is the treatment for cervical cancer?

Treatment depends on how far the cancer has spread across the surrounding tissue and cells. Early cervical cancer can be treated with surgery, while advanced cervical cancer could require radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. Treatment options include:

Removing abnormal cells: This can be done by a cone biopsy or laser therapy.

A radical trachelectomy: This type of surgery can be used to remove the cervix, surrounding tissue and the upper part of the vagina, with the womb left in place.

A hysterectomy: This type of surgery involves a procedure where both the cervix and womb are removed – this tends to be for more advanced cases of cervical cancer.

For more information head to If you have any concerns or are worried about symptoms, speak to your GP who will be able to advise you.

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