Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and Changes to Smear Tests: What does it mean?

January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness month of the purpose of which is to spread awareness of cervical health and educating individuals of risks or symptoms they should be aware of. According to Cancer Research, there were approximately 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer each year with 99.8% of estimated to have been preventable.  

This year’s Cervical Cancer Awareness month has coincided with the recent announcement by the Welsh Government that women and people with a cervix will now receive their cervical screening every five years rather than every three years in Wales. The extension to the cervical screening interval was introduced on 1 January 2022. As a result, it has never been more important to discuss cervical cancer and the purpose of smear tests.

What is Cervical Cancer? 

Cervical cancer is a cancer which is found anywhere in the opening between the vagina and the womb, otherwise known as the cervix. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by an infection from certain types of ‘Human Papillomavirus’ (HPV) with one preventable measure of developing cervical cancer being to attend regular smear tests to screen for this virus and for abnormal cells. 

There are more than 100 different types of HPV and only certain types will cause cervical cancer. One purpose of the smear test is to determine whether a high risk HPV is present within the cervix of an individual. 

What is a ‘Smear Test’?

A smear test, otherwise known as cervical screening, is a procedure used to prevent cervical cancer. Women and people with a cervix aged between 25 to 64 are invited to attend for a screening and a sample of cells is taken from their cervix. The cells are then checked for high risk HPV, which can cause changes to the cells of the cervix and consequently develop into cancer. 

In England, women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 49 are invited to attend their cervical screening every three years, whilst those aged 50 to 64 will be invited every five years. 

In Wales from 1 January 2022, women and people with a cervix aged between 25 to 49 will be invited to attend their smear test in five years’ time following a smear test where HPV was not found. The process for those aged 50 to 64 remains unchanged. 

The reason for this change is Public Health Wales indicated that recent evidence has shown that it was safe to extend this timeframe in individuals where HPV was not identified during their screening. 

Petition

Following the announcement, a petition was launched to revert screenings every three years opposed to five years due to fears of further deaths from cervical cancer. This petition currently has over 900,000 signatures at time of writing. 

Public Health Wales responded to the backlash following the announcement by acknowledging that they had not done enough to explain the reasons for the change to cervical screening. They stated that they are working to make the reasons for the change clearer, and to provide further information. 

Cancer Research UK also confirmed that the change in cervical screenings was based on evidence and not related with cost-saving purposes. 

What are the signs and symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

The signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include: 

  • Vaginal bleeding that is unusual for you 
  • Changes to your vaginal discharge 
  • Pain during sexual intercourse 
  • Pain in your lower abdomen, between your hip bones, or in your lower stomach

For further information, please visit the NHS website below. 

Symptoms of cervical cancer - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Treatment for Cervical Cancer

Treatment for cervical cancer will vary and depend upon where in the cervix the cancer is, its size or stage and whether it has spread to anywhere else. 

Usually, treatment will include surgery such as a hysterectomy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 

According to Cancer Research, more than 60% of individuals will survive their cancer for five or more years after diagnosis, with earlier diagnosis being key to survival rates. 

At Lanyon Bowdler, we understand and appreciate the difficulty our clients have in coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis, particularly when there may be concerns in relation to the standard of care that they have received. If you consider that your care has been affected by a delay in diagnosis, our team is happy to discuss your treatment with you and guide you through the process. 

Podcast

In the summer of 2020 Beth Heath and Katherine Jones recorded an episode of The Legal Lounge where they spoke about the delay in diagnosis on cancer using two fictitious but typical case studies, one relates to cervical cancer, you can listen here: https://apple.co/38Opw4Y 

References:

Cervical cancer statistics | Cancer Research UK

Cancer: Cervical screening in Wales to be every five years - BBC News