LATE REALITY TV star Jade Goody’s battle with cervical cancer brought more attention to the disease.
The former Big Brother star was just 27 when she lost her cancer fight on March 22. However, there has been an unexpected and encouraging consequence of Goody’s sad passing.
Thousands of lives could be saved because more women are actively seeking information about the disease.
On the day Goody was diagnosed in August 2008, the charity Cancer Research UK received 10 times the usual number of hits on its website.
Before then the cervical cancer section of the site received 2,000 to 3,000 hits each day. That jumped to 32,000 and has remained high ever since.
Cervical cancer is a malignant cancer of the cervix, and is often attributed to women’s exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV) when they become sexually active.
Most women have the virus at some time in their lives, but it usually causes no symptoms and goes away on its own.
However, some types of HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix, leading to cervical cancer if it remains untreated.
About 2,800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK each year, according to Cancer Research UK, and it’s the second most common cancer in women under 35.
Since 1967, women have been invited to undergo cervical screening. The smear test involves a nurse or doctor taking a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix, which is then tested for pre-cancerous cells.
Yinka Ebo, Health Information Officer for Cancer Research UK, says it’s important for women to accept their invitation for cervical screening.
“Screening is vital because it can detect early changes in the cervix. These early changes can be spotted before they develop into full blown cancer,” she explained.
Ebo adds that cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that is preventable, but some women are reluctant to go for their screenings.
“From my own personal experience I was pretty late in getting my cervical smears because I was scared, but it’s a very simple procedure. It takes about five minutes and some women might find it uncomfortable but for a procedure that is so simple there is no reason why women shouldn’t go,” she said.
In the UK, if women are aged between 25 and 60 they are contacted at least every five years by their local NHS Trust and asked to come for a cervical screening test.
However, women in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are screened from the age of 20. This has raised debate over whether the age to begin screening needs to be lowered in the UK.
Health Minister Ann Keen recently said the Government would review lowering the age limit.
“Cervical screening saves around 4,500 lives every year and we want to ensure that our programme remains in the best interests of young women. Experts will review the latest available evidence in this area as well as encourage more women to decide to take up this important service,” said Keen.
But Ebo says the number of women affected by cervical cancer is very low for under 25s.
“There are a very small amount of cases where women under 25 suffer from cervical cancer. Therefore, there is little benefit of screening women in that age group,” she said.
“But we will keep an eye on those statistics.”
However, despite the low risks, Ebo advises that women consult their doctor if they experience bleeding between periods and pain during sex, which is often a symptom of cervical cancer.
“If women experience these symptoms it doesn’t mean they have cancer, but they should check it out,” she explained.
Certain factors such as smoking and unprotected sex can increase the risk of developing the disease.
“As soon as young women become sexually active you’re at risk of developing cervical cancer, because of the exposure to the HPV virus. It’s important to protect yourself. Also, the chemicals in cigarettes causes changes in the cervix,” Ebo warned.
Ebo believes that many women are becoming more proactive when it comes to cervical cancer, and attributes this to Goody’s diagnosis, as there has been a surge in women going for their screening.
Some hospitals are reporting a 20 percent rise of women undertaking smear tests.
“Jade has brought cervical cancer into the public spotlight. I have been approached by so many women wanting information and my friends are struggling to get appointments for screening,” Ebo revealed.
Despite this, research carried out by Cancer Research UK reveals that there is a difference in the screening attendance of some black and ethnic minority women and white.
“Although there are no concrete statistics we have found that fewer BME [black and minority ethnic] women in deprived areas are attending their screenings as opposed to white women,” Ebo explained.
She said there is still more work for the organisation to do to cut down the numbers of women dying from cervical cancer, which currently stands at 1,000 deaths each year.
“I can’t emphasise enough how important screenings are. When abnormal or cancer cells are found early, treatment can begin.
“Cancer Research UK will be working hard this year to get this message across and are determined to reduce the number of people dying from the disease,” Ebo said.
* For more info visit: www.cancerresearchuk.org