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​Reduce the risk of cervical cancer – take a smear test

GPs in Southwark are encouraging women to attend their free NHS smear test to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

To help raise awareness, women are also been urged to support the #SmearForSmear campaign on social media as part of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week 2020.

Cervical cancer screening, also known as a smear test, is a free health test that checks for cell changes caused by high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV). This year, the campaign is aiming to tackle misconceptions and reduce the stigma around HPV.

Every three to five years, women in the target age group (25 to 64) are invited for a free NHS cervical screening appointment. This type of testing prevents 75 per cent of cervical cancers, yet in Southwark less than a quarter of women eligible for a smear test attend[1].

Although symptoms of cervical cancers are not always obvious (hence the importance of regular screening), they can include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding – during or after sex or between periods
  • pain and discomfort during sex
  • unusual vaginal discharge, and
  • lower back pain in the lower back or pelvis.

The #SmearForSmear campaign, which runs during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week from 20 to 26 January, is being led by Jo's Trust. Its website www.jostrust.org.uk has information on how to book a cervical screening appointment and what happens during the test.

New research conducted by the charity has found that a third of women consider HPV a taboo topic and would not want anyone to know if they had it. A quarter have not heard of HPV and one in five would feel embarrassed if they were told they had the virus.

In most cases, HPV infection goes away without doing the body any harm. However, it sometimes causes cells to change which, if not treated, could develop into cervical cancer. Testing for HPV is estimated to prevent almost 500 diagnoses of cervical cancer every year.

Women can help raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening by supporting the campaign on social media. To get involved, just put on some lipstick, smear it across your cheek, take a selfie and share it – accompanied by the hashtag – #SmearForSmear.

GPs say attending screening appointments can be crucial because early diagnosis and treatment of cancer greatly increases the chances of survival. 

Dr Nancy Kuchemann, Clinical lead for NHS Southwark Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said:

"Every year in the UK, around 3,000 women and people with a cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina) are diagnosed with cervical cancer.

"While there's no single way to prevent cervical cancer, there are ways of reducing the risk. Identifying and treating it at an early stage is key to successful treatment so having a smear test is not only very important, it can help save lives. 

"As part of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week 2020, we are urging women and people with a cervix in Southwark to attend their regular screening appointments when invited."

You can find more information on Cervical Screening on the NHS England website.