Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix (the neck of the womb). Although rare in young women, it can take many years to develop. It often doesn’t have obvious symptoms.
If there are symptoms, these are usually:
Bleeding between periods
Discomfort during sex
Smelly discharge from your vagina
The first sign of cervical cancer is abnormal cells in your cervix, known as pre-cancerous cells. Remember-these do not always develop into cancer. Doctors can test you to see if you have abnormal cells in your cervix.
You should have a cervical smear test every three years after you start having sex.
A cervical smear test is not painful and is very quick but can be a little uncomfortable. You can ask for a female nurse or doctor to carry out the test, and they are used to women feeling nervous or uncomfortable about it.
The nurse or doctor will insert a swab to take some cells from your cervix. These are then sent to a laboratory for testing. You should get the results in writing within a few weeks.
Why should I be tested?
Smear tests stop up to 75% of cases of cervical cancer developing (the test doesn't always pick up every case of cervical cancer though)
They do not diagnose cervical cancer but can show if there are abnormal cells.
Abnormal cells do not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer- the doctor will decide whether to run further tests or to check your cervix in another few months.
The case of Jade Goody has shown how important it is to have regular smear tests and get anything abnormal checked out. It's said that the Big Brother star ignored a letter from her doctor about abnormal cells because she was scared. Unfortunately that meant her treatment didn't start until the cancer had increased, lessening the chances of success.
Jo's Trust- Jo's Trust is a charity that provide information about cervical cancer and support to those who are affected by it.
NHS Health Scotland has published ‘A guide to teenage immunisations between 12 and 18 years of age’ booklet. It provides young people with information on the immunisations that are given between 12 and 18 years of age, including information about cervical cancer. For more information on the booklet go to the Immunisation Scotland website.