Cervical Cancer Prevention Week: The importance of early screening programmes to detect cancer

Posted by Charlotte Allen on

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I was shocked to read in the news this morning that within a survey undertaken by the charity, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, a third of the 2,017 women interviewed, said that embarrassment caused them to delay getting a smear test. This is a vital tool in preventing cervical cancer.

The NHS cervical screening programme is for women aged between 25 and 65 and is used as a way of preventing cancer by finding and treating abnormal cell changes in the cervix. If the abnormal cells are left unmonitored, there is a possibility of cancer developing. It is actually a simple and quick test that involves a doctor or nurse taking a sample of cells from the cervix using a speculum; a small brush like instrument. The cells taken are then sent off to a laboratory to check for any abnormalities. In some cases, the sample is also checked for the human papilloma virus (HPV) which research has suggested is related to the development of cervical cancer.

We have seen previous articles in the news discussing whether cervical screening should be extended to women under the age of 25, often in the context of very sad cases where a diagnosis was reached too late. However, the government has considered the evidence and noted that the harms of screening younger women outweighed the benefits and would potentially lead to further unnecessary, invasive tests and investigations. In addition, the HPV vaccination programme (a vaccine free for all girls aged between 12-17 in the UK) introduced in schools in 2008, is likely to combat the number of young women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer. This test identifies women with a high-risk type of HPV and enables appropriate monitoring to take place to ensure that cervical abnormalities do not develop.

The NHS provides three screening programmes at the moment: bowel cancer; breast cancer and cervical cancer. Such programmes have been proven to save thousands of lives each year by detecting abnormalities before cancer develops and/or cancer at an earlier stage. This means that appropriate treatment can be instigated earlier which in turn, improves prognosis and survival rates. Unfortunately, I have dealt with a number of clinical negligence cases involving delays in diagnosis of cancer which have led to poorer outcomes and in some cases, death.

At BL Claims, we believe we should be encouraging young women to take advantage of this easy test by educating them about a) what it involves and b) why it is so important. Campaigns such as #SmearForSmear are a fantastic way of getting this message out there. Cervical Cancer Prevention Week starts today and there is a huge amount of information available to women who wish to find out more about cervical cancer and the importance of protecting themselves. Smear tests are not embarrassing, they are a simple test that could save a life.

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About the Author

Charlotte is a Senior Solicitor in the Clinical Negligence Team based in London.

Charlotte Allen
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0207 814 6915

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