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 and Delivery of High Quality Cancer Care in Essex"
NHS Essex Cancer Network

Cervical Cancer

About

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman's cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina).

Cancer of the cervix often has no symptoms in its early stages. If you do have symptoms, the most common is unusual vaginal bleeding, which can occur after sex, in between periods or after the menopause.

Abnormal bleeding doesn't mean that you definitely have cervical cancer, but it should be investigated by your GP as soon as possible. If your GP thinks you might have cervical cancer, you should be referred to see a specialist within two weeks.

Read more about the symptoms of cervical cancer and diagnosing cervical cancer.

Screening for cervical cancer

Over the course of many years, the cells lining the surface of the cervix undergo a series of changes. In rare cases, these precancerous cells can become cancerous. However, cell changes in the cervix can be detected at a very early stage and treatment can reduce the risk of cervical cancer developing.

The NHS offers a cervical screening programme to all women from the age of 25. During cervical screening (previously known as a "smear test"), a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix and checked under a microscope for abnormalities.

An abnormal cervical screening test doesn't mean you definitely have cancer. Most abnormal results are caused by an infection or the presence of treatable precancerous cells, rather than cancer itself.

Women aged 25 to 49 years of age are offered screening every three years, and women aged 50 to 64 are offered screening every five years. For women who are 65 or older, only those who haven't been screened since they were 50, or those who have had recent abnormal tests, are offered screening.

You should be sent a letter confirming when your screening appointment is due. Contact your GP if you think you may be overdue for a screening appointment.

Read more about cervical screening.

What causes cervical cancer?

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus that can be passed on through any type of sexual contact with a man or a woman.

There are more than 100 different types of HPV, many of which are harmless. However, some types of HPV can cause abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer.

Two strains of the HPV virus (HPV 16 and HPV 18) are known to be responsible for 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. These types of HPV infection don't have any symptoms, so many women won't realise they have the infection.

However, it's important to be aware that these infections are relatively common and most women who have them don't develop cervical cancer.

Using condoms during sex offers some protection against HPV, but it can't always prevent infection, because the virus is also spread through skin-to-skin contact of the wider genital area.

Since 2008, a HPV vaccine has been routinely offered to girls aged 12 and 13.

Read more about the causes of cervical cancer and preventing cervical cancer.

Treating cervical cancer

If cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it's usually possible to treat it using surgery. In some cases, it's possible to leave the womb in place, but it may need to be removed. The surgical procedure used to remove the womb is called a hysterectomy.

Radiotherapy is an alternative to surgery for some women with early stage cervical cancer. In some cases, it's used alongside surgery.

More advanced cases of cervical cancer are usually treated using a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Some of the treatments used can have significant and long-lasting side effects, including early menopause and infertility.

Read more about treating cervical cancer.

Complications

Many women with cervical cancer will have complications. These can arise as a direct result of the cancer or as a side effect of treatments such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery.

Complications associated with cervical cancer can range from the relatively minor, such as minor bleeding from the vagina or having to urinate frequently, to life-threatening, such as severe bleeding or kidney failure.

Read more about the complications of cervical cancer.

Outlook

The stage at which cervical cancer is diagnosed is an important factor in determining a woman's outlook. The staging, given as a number from one to four, indicates how far the cancer has spread.

The chances of living for at least five years after being diagnosed with cervical cancer are:

  • stage 1  80-99%
  • stage 2  60-90%
  • stage 3  30-50%
  • stage 4  20%

Read more about the staging of cervical cancer.

In the UK, just under 1,000 women die from cervical cancer every year.

Who's affected by cervical cancer?

Following the success of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme and the early detection of cell changes, the number of cervical cancer cases in the UK has reduced. Around 3,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year.

It's possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, but the condition mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45. Cervical cancer is very rare in women under 25.

Further information on cervical cancer

Information Prescription Service

To access the Information Prescription Service and the national cancer information pathway for cervical cancer please click on the link below. Then click on 'Specialist information from our charity partners'

www.nhs.uk

Cancer Research UK Website

www.cancerresearchuk.org

Macmillan Cancer Support Website

www.macmillan.org.uk

Further Information

Visit or phone a local cancer information centre

There are several cancer information and support centres in Essex Cancer Network where anyone affected by cancer can be sure of a warm welcome and high quality, accurate, evidence-based information:

Basildon Hospital Macmillan Info and Support Centre, Outpatients Dept, Basildon Hospital, staffed Monday 2pm - Friday 12.30pm,tel: 0845 155 3111 extension 4908

Macmillan Info and Support Centre,Essex County Hospital, Outpatients Dept, Monday - Friday office hours, tel: 01206 747474

Information Resource Service, St Luke's House, Corringham,Thurrock, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01375 648170

Lantern Suite, Farleigh Hospice,Chelmsford, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01245 457418

Hospice Outreach Project Information Bus, Farleigh Hospice, covers the Chelmsford area. Contact Farleigh Hospice as above

For more information, please contact the service direct.

 

Visit your local library in Essex Cancer Network

Essex, Southend and Thurrock library services have worked in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support and the Essex Cancer Network to establish collections of quality assured information books and pamphlets about cancer. These can be accessed at any library: just ask. Additionally some staff at libraries have been trained to help patients use the Information Prescription Service.

Contact Macmillan Cancer Support Helplines

If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just someone to talk to, call free, Monday to Friday 9am - 8pm (interpretation service available) tel: 0808 808 0000

For financial queries tel: 0808 808 2232

 

Remember: Stay safe online when looking for support!

Internet chat rooms and message forums can be valuable sources of support and comfort, enabling you to meet others in the same position. However, there is potential for abuse - please read these guidelines before you set off to explore...

Click here to download the draft guidelines

 

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