There are many reasons why you may decide to avoid seeing the doctor.
It is not always easy to judge whether the symptoms you’ve only just noticed are something you should start worrying about.
Newspaper headlines about increasing workloads among GPs, along with practices urging nurse-only appointments for minor complaints, all contribute to a general fear that you may be wasting the time of under-pressure medics.
But this way of thinking can be not only unhelpful, but sometimes even downright dangerous.
A recent study published in the British Journal of General Practice showed that:
Some younger women continue to risk their health by ignoring the tell-tale signs of cervical cancer.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Early signs of cervical cancer can include:
- unusual vaginal bleeding, including: in-between periods, after menopause, heavier than usual bleeding
- abdominal pain
- discomfort during sex
- vaginal discharge
As the cancer spreads into the cervix or surrounding areas, other symptoms can present themselves, such as:
- blood in urine
- swelling of the legs
- weight loss
- pain in the bones
The researchers, from Queen Mary University of London, found that:
28% of women who had reported early symptoms of cervical cancer admitted they had delayed seeking advice from their doctor for more than three months.
The reasons they gave for not seeking medical advice when experiencing early symptoms included embarrassment, anxiety about not seeing a female doctor and concern over wasting a doctor’s time.
For more information see our article on Cervical Cancer Symptoms.
Cervical cancer treatments
If caught early, there is a good chance that treatments will lead to a complete cure for many women with cervical cancer.
Treatments for the early stages of cervical cancer often include:
- surgery to remove the womb, or parts of it
Protecting against cervical cancer
In more than 99% of cases, cervical cancer is caused by contact with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Most people who are sexually active will come into contact with HPV at some point. However, not everyone who contracts the virus will develop cancer.
The best ways to protect yourself against HPV are:
- Get regular smear tests: Regular cervical screening is the best way to identify abnormal cells in the cervix early on, and, if necessary, eliminate them before they can become cancerous. Women who are sexually active should get a smear test every three years. In most of the UK these are provided free on the NHS if you are between the ages of 25 and 65 (in Scotland the age range is 20-60); find out more on the NHS website.
- Give up smoking: Tobacco can reduce your body’s ability to fight off HPV.
- Practice safe sex: Using a barrier method of contraception, such as the condom or female condom, can minimise contact with HPV. Reducing your number of sexual partners will also cut your risk. The safest way to protect against HPV is either to abstain from sex altogether, or to stay in a monogamous relationship. However, HPV is extremely common, and even people who practise safe sex often become infected.
- Get a cervical cancer vaccine: There is currently a vaccination programme in the UK that offers injections to all girls aged between 12 and 13 years old. The Cervarix and Gardasil vaccines can protect against the main two types of HPV associated with cervical cancer, HPV16 and HPV18. The Gardasil vaccine can also protect against genital warts, another sexually transmitted infection linked to the human papillomavirus.
Find out more about preventing cervical cancer.
HPV vaccine for boys
There had been increasing calls for boys to be included in the vaccination programme. Campaigners argue that without the vaccination, boys and men are vulnerable to a number of HPV-related conditions such as genital warts, and penile and anal cancers.
They suggested that the mass inoculation of boys will also bring benefits to women by reducing the number of HPV carriers in the general population.
As of the 2019/20 academic year, the vaccine has been offered to boys and girls aged 12-13 as part of the National Immunisation Programme. It is also offered on the NHS females who didn’t receive the vaccination at school and are under 25, as well as men under 45 who have sex with men. You can also access the vaccine privately, through either the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor consultation, or in one of our stores.