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Cervical cancer: The early signs and symptoms you need to know

Discover what cervical cancer is and how it is diagnosed

Chloe Best

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 35 and under, with around 3,000 women diagnosed with the disease in the UK each year. However, regular cervical screening can help to save lives by identifying abnormalities that could lead to cancer. But what is a smear test? And what symptoms should women be aware of? We've rounded up your need-to-know guide on cervical cancer.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a women's cervix. It often has no symptoms in its early stages, however some women may notice some signs, as detailed below.

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What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages. The most common symptom is unusual vaginal bleeding, which can occur in between periods, after sex or after the menopause. While abnormal bleeding does not mean you definitely have cervical cancer, it should be investigated by your doctor as soon as possible.

What is the treatment for cervical cancer?

If cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it may be possible to treat it using surgery. In some cases, women may need to undergo a hysterectomy. Radiotherapy can also be used as an alternative to surgery for some women with early stage cervical cancer, while a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy is typically used for more advanced cases of cervical cancer.

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What is a smear test?

A smear test is a form of cervical screening that is offered to women aged 25 to 64. It is in place to test apparently healthy people for signs that could show the cancer is starting to develop. 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.

How often should I have a smear test?

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. 

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