Urgent cancer warning to millions who missed smear tests during pandemic

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MILLIONS of women across the UK could be at risk of cervical cancer due to a delay in tests, research has revealed.

In England, NHS cervical screening is offered to women and people with a cervix between the ages of 24.5 and 49 every three years.

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In the UK there are over 3,000 cervical cancer cases each yearCredit: Getty

For those aged 50 and 64, screening is offered every five years. 

But due to the coronavirus pandemic – many women have admitted they have put the tests off, leaving them vulnerable to illness.

Research from Online Doctor found that 37 per cent of women aged 25-34 said restrictions had impacted or delayed them being able to book their smear test.

In those aged 35-44, 43 per cent said the pandemic had meant they also had not attended a screening appointment.

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Cases of cervical cancer are 99.8 per cent preventable if caught early enough by routine checks.

In the UK there are more than 3,000 cervical cancer cases each year.

The poll of 1,000 women via Online Doctor comes after the Help Us Help You – campaign was launched.

Its aim is to encourage women, and anyone eligible, to book an appointment now if they missed their last screening.

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and Medical Director for Primary Care at NHS England, said: “There is no doubt about it – cervical screening saves lives.

“By screening for risk signs at an early stage, it means that any abnormal cells can be treated quickly before they potentially develop into cancer.

“We know that it can feel embarrassing or feel like something that you can easily put off, but accepting your invite and getting checked could save your life.

“And please do speak to your GP practice about any concerns you might have – we are here to help you.”

The cervical cancer symptoms you need to know

There are no obvious symptoms during the early stages of cervical cancer – that’s why it’s best to keep up with your smears when reminded by your GP.

However, vaginal bleeding can often be a tell-tale sign, especially if it occurs after sex, in between periods or after the menopause.

That said, abnormal bleeding is not a definite sign of the condition, just a possible indicator and should be checked out.

Other warning signs include:

  • pain and discomfort during sex
  • unusual or unpleasant vaginal discharge
  • pain in your lower back or pelvis

And if it spreads to other organs, the signs can include:

  • pain in your lower back or pelvis
  • severe pain in your side or back caused by your kidneys
  • constipation
  • peeing or pooing more than usual
  • losing control of your bladder or bowels
  • blood in your pee
  • swelling in one or both legs
  • severe vaginal bleeding

Cervical screening checks for high-risk types of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a common virus that most people will get at some point.

For people with high-risk HPV the risk of developing cancer is low, but it’s important any abnormal changes can be identified early.

Cell changes can be easily treated to help prevent cervical cancer – which is why attending screening appointments is so vital. 

Worries about pain and embarrassment stop a lot of people from going for their smear, but most women don’t find it particularly uncomfortable and it is over quicker than you might think.

Last month it was revealed that women might only need one smear test in their lifetime, thanks to a new vaccine.

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The HPV vaccine is leading to such dramatic reductions in cervical cancer that it could spell the end of regular check-ups, experts said.

HPV vaccines have been given to teenage girls since 2008 to prevent cancer in later life, and boys since 2019.

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