To coincide with Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (20 – 26 Jan 2020), doctors in Health and Community Services (HCS) are highlighting to women four key ways to help reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus which is spread through close skin-to-skin contact, usually during sexual activity. Although most HPV infection will disappear on its own accord, it sometimes persists and can cause abnormalities in the cells of the cervix. Cervical screening checks for the presence of HPV and, if detected, for any cell abnormalities. These abnormalities can be treated by a gynaecologist in the Colposcopy Clinic to help reduce the chances of cervical cancer occurring.
Last year, around 7,200 women underwent a cervical screening test – a 22 per cent increase compared to 2018.
Dr Fiona Nelson, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Health and Community Services said: "It is great that more women attended their cervical screening appointment last year. We really hope this uptake continues in 2020, whether women choose to go to their own GP or have the test at Le Bas Centre. It’s free of charge and women are very welcome to request a female GP."
Dr Kathleen Gillies, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said the HPV vaccine can drastically reduce the chance of women developing cervical cancer.
She said: "Since 2008, the HPV vaccine has been offered to girls in school year 8. Evidence shows this has dramatically reduced the number of young women with pre-cancerous cervical disease.
"Those vaccinated still need to go for cervical screening at the age of 25, but we envisage they’re likely to need much fewer screenings in their lifetime. Since September 2019, the vaccine has also been offered to year 8 boys to protect them from HPV infection and other related cancers."
Women aged 25-49 should undergo cervical screening every three years, and women aged 50–64 should be having cervical screening every five years.
Cervical screening is not offered to women under the age of 25 because screening at such an early age does more harm than good. This is because it’s common for younger women under the age of 25 to have mild changes in the cells of the cervix, but these usually return to normal over time and do not increase the risk of cancer.
Women aged 25 or over who have never had a cervical screening test are advised to book an appointment with their GP practice or Le Bas Centre.
Quitting smoking also reduces a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. This is because smoking makes it harder for the body to clear HPV. Support to stop smoking is available at www.gov.je/help2quit.
Finally, women are encouraged to know the symptoms of cervical cancer. Unusual symptoms such as bleeding between periods or during/after sex or after the menopause; changes to vaginal discharge; or pain or discomfort during sex can be caused by things other than cancer, but if a woman has any of these symptoms she should always consult her GP. Cervical screening is not a suitable test for women with symptoms and they may well require referral to a gynaecology consultant for further investigations.
Whilst cervical cancer can occur at any age, it is the most common cancer in women under 35. Although cervical screening in Jersey has been free of charge since August 2018, only two thirds of women in Jersey regularly get screened to prevent themselves getting cervical cancer. In the past five years, 20 women in Jersey have been diagnosed with cervical cancer and one to two women die every year of cervical cancer.
Dr Nelson added: "It is understandable that some women find having this test embarrassing. If this is the case they can ask for a female doctor or nurse when booking the appointment.
"We are making every effort to educate the whole community, especially the most vulnerable groups who may have limited access to information and potentially can be at a higher risk of developing this type of cancer."