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Missing a smear test is putting your life at risk

26 January 2016

Health Care

This week is cervical cancer prevention week and the stark message from Southend University Hospital is that missing a smear test is putting your life at risk.

It is the most common form of cancer in women aged under 50 and every three years, from the age of 25 onwards, women are advised to have a smear test, rising to once every five years when they are 50.

The test is performed at your GP surgery but those needing further investigation are referred to Southend Hospital, under the guidance of the colposcopy service. Mr Khalil Razvi, a consultant gynaecological oncologist and lead for the colposcopy service at Southend Hospital, said: "I would estimate that about a quarter of those eligible women for screening do not attend and many of these ladies are in a high risk group.

"The majority of cervical cancer patients we treat in Southend Hospital have missed their smear tests in the past. Screening is proven to work, is effective and if we catch abnormalities or issues early enough then something can be done about it."

The uptake of smear test screening and cervical cancer awareness arguably hit its peak in March 2009 in the wake of the death of former Big Brother housemate, Jade Goody, but the numbers are now slipping rapidly.

According to Jo's cervical cancer trust, the only UK charity dedicated to women and their families affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities, every day in the UK eight women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three women will lose their lives to the disease.

Cervical cancer is largely preventable thanks to cervical screening and the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination programme. However uptake of cervical screening is now going down year on year.

Mr Razvi said: "I know that there is the fear factor, especially if someone has missed a three or five year appointment but it should not be put off as early detection is also crucial in increasing survival rates, so we'd recommend booking an appointment at your GP surgery.

"If there is anything found and you are referred to Southend Hospital we are very effective in testing and detecting what is known as the pre-cancer stage. If these signs are caught early enough then treatment can take place as an outpatient. If it is left it risks becoming cancer which brings with it radical treatment and its side effects."

But you couldn't be in better hands than at Southend Hospital, as doctors at Southend are the first in Essex to be using a device called DySIS - Dynamic Spectral Imaging System -  to help detect changes in the cervix and to help guide the best course of treatment for women to prevent them developing full blown cancer.

The equipment is also helping to ensure women avoid invasive treatment, which can in some cases, leave them with problems during pregnancy such as increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth. The device is expected to help around 800 women a year at the hospital and has changed the philosophy of how women are treated. 

Around 1, 200 women attend the hospital each year to have a colposcopy procedure, and of these women. Mr Razvi estimates that 50% have pre-cancerous changes. He believes a proportion of those would go on to develop full blown cancer if they were left untreated.

Mr Razvi added: "Such leaps forward in technology help more patients feel less anxious, and then less people who feel fearful of smear tests at their GP or follow up appointments at the hospital. You may think you can wait for your smear and HPV test, but cancer won't wait for you."

For more details about cervical cancer visit: http://bit.ly/cervicalcancerUK