As a storyline in a popular soap highlights the issue of cervical cancer, public health teams in Sussex are urging women to have regular cervical screening tests (see notes).
EastEnders character Tanya Branning, played by Jo Joyner, has been diagnosed with cervical cancer. And TV bosses have worked closely with experts and charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, to ensure the storyline is true to life.
“Highlighting the importance of women having regular cervical screening tests in a popular TV soap is welcomed,” says Jenny Greenfield, the East Sussex cervical cancer screening lead.
“Regular cervical screening saves lives. It’s for all women over 25 – women aged 25-49 every three years, 50-64 every five years.”
Detection of early changes in the cervix by regular screening is, to date, the most effective way of preventing a cancer from developing. Despite this, 20 per cent of women locally did not take up their invitation for cervical screening last year.
She adds: “Any woman who’s not had their cervical screening test in the past three to five years should make an appointment with their GP practice, local family planning clinic or sexual health clinic.”
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Notes for news editors
The percentage of eligible Brighton and Hove women who, at the end of December 2010, have had an adequate test in the preceding five years was 75.9%.
The percentage of eligible East Sussex women who, at the end of December 2010, have had an adequate test in the preceding five years was 79.9%.
The percentage of eligible West Sussex women who, at the end of December 2010, have had an adequate test in the preceding five years was 79.5%.
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It is a method of preventing cancer by detecting and treating early abnormalities which, if left untreated, could lead to cancer in a woman's cervix (the neck of the womb). The first stage in cervical screening is taking a sample using Liquid based Cytology (LBC).
A sample of cells is taken from the cervix for analysis. A doctor or nurse inserts an instrument (a speculum) to open the woman's vagina and uses a brush to sweep around the cervix. Most women consider the procedure to be only mildly uncomfortable.
Early detection and treatment can prevent 75 per cent of cancers developing but like other screening tests, it is not perfect. It may not always detect early cell changes that could lead to cancer.
Women aged 25-49 are invited for screening every three years; women 50-64 every five years. They can expect to get their results with two weeks.
In the UK, approximately 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Cancer of the neck of the womb occurs frequently in women who are under 35 years old. Breast cancer is the only other cancer to occur more often within this age group.
There are two main types of cervical cancer:
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type, and develops from the flat cells that cover the outer surface of the cervix at the top of the vagina.
Adenocarcinoma develops from the glandular cells that line the cervical canal (endocervix). Adenocarcinoma starts in the cervical canal and can therefore be more difficult to detect using cervical screening tests.
Cancer of the cervix usually takes many years to develop. Before it does, the cells in the cervix often show changes, known as cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia (CIN). This precancerous cell stage is also sometimes known as dyskariosis. If left untreated, CIN can develop into cervical cancer. However, the majority of women with CIN do not develop the disease.
Although some forms of cervical cancer are becoming more common, it can be prevented if it is detected in the early stages via cervical screening.