Study marks Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, January 20-26
A leading charity is calling for women to be aware of the signs of cervical cancer as new figures out today show that women are more likely to take action for a persistent cold than if they were to experience abnormal bleeding - a key symptom of the disease. In the survey commissioned by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, 79% of women said they would see a doctor for a cold that lasted more than 3 weeks, compared to only 50% if they bled outside of a period.
The results from a YouGov poll of women who haven’t had cervical cancer showed that women’s attitudes to the more common symptoms of cervical cancer such as bleeding in between periods did not prompt a visit to the doctor as quickly as potentially less worrying ailments such as a cough or cold. For example 63% would make an appointment with a doctor within a month of having experienced a cold that had lasted more than 3 weeks and 75% would do so for a persistent cough that lasted more than 3 weeks, compared to only 33% if they bled outside of a period.
The YouGov survey was commissioned following a study by the charity which showed a lack of symptoms awareness in women who went on to develop cervical cancer. The study found that of the women who had experienced symptoms prior to a diagnosis of cervical cancer, almost 70% said they were not aware that their symptoms were related to the disease. Furthermore, of those that had more invasive cervical cancer (stage 2b, 3 and 4a), 87.9% experienced abnormal bleeding (in between periods, during/after sex) and 57.6% had unusual vaginal discharge.
Robert Music, Director, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Whilst early stage cervical cancer is often symptomless, we have found through women we have spoken to who experienced symptoms and went on to be diagnosed with the disease, many either delayed or ignored the warning signs, only seeking medical advice months and in some cases over a year after first seeing the signs. A delayed diagnosis could result in a more advanced stage of cancer which in turn may lead to more invasive treatments, a poorer quality of life and ultimately a lower chance of survival.
“Every day in the UK nine women are diagnosed and nearly three women die from the disease*. Early detection is therefore key to improving survival rates and quality of life. It’s imperative that women are made fully aware of all the symptoms of the disease as well as feel confident enough to visit the doctor if they notice anything unusual going on with their body – whether this is a noticeable change in vaginal discharge, abnormal bleeding or pain during intercourse, they should not be embarrassed or suffer in silence.”
With cervical cancer being the most common cancer for women under 35*, particularly concerning are the YouGov results for respondents aged 25-34. More than 1 in 3 questioned in this group (34%) said that they had experienced abnormal bleeding (in between periods or during/after sex) but only 36% saw a medical professional and 48% did nothing at all. Their reasons for not seeing a medical professional straight away (i.e. within a couple of days) after last experiencing bleeding during or after sex include not thinking it was important enough (27%) as well as hoping it would get better on its own (23%). Similarly of the 27% of those in this group that experienced pain or discomfort during sex, 31% did not see a medical professional straight away because they put it down to just being a part of what a woman goes through.
Robert continues: “Symptoms for cervical cancer like abnormal bleeding and pain during sex can be quite common so it’s understandable that women may not take urgent action. However it is worrying to see that many, including the highest risk age group*, are prepared to put up with these conditions dismissing them as normal and just part and parcel of being a woman. The results also show that women aged 18-24 are also dismissing symptoms as normal; for example 39% who had experienced bleeding during or after sex said they did not go to a medical professional straight away as they thought it was normal. Whilst cervical cancer is extremely rare with girls under 25 they too should feel confident enough to visit the doctor if there is anything unusual or painful for their body.”
Overall almost a quarter of women in the YouGov survey (23%) had experienced bleeding in between periods, yet 32% said they didn’t go to a medical professional straight away because they felt it was normal for a woman. Likewise of the 21% who had experienced pain or discomfort during sex, 68% did not see a medical professional. Of those who experienced this symptom and didn’t see a medical professional straight away, 32% said it simply wasn’t important enough, 19% stated they felt too embarrassed and 26% put it down to being a woman.
With early detection being key to improving survival rates, the survey revealed that busy mums were also a cause for concern as 63% of those with 3+ children in their household admitted that if they thought something was wrong with their body they would prefer to put off a visit to the doctor to see if it got any better or worse. Furthermore, for those with any children in their household that experienced bleeding during or after sex, but did not see a medical professional within a couple of days, 13% said this was because they were too busy to arrange an appointment or go.
The YouGov statistics also showed a lack of awareness when it came to identifying the signs of cervical cancer. Over half (53%) did not pin point pain or discomfort during sex and 52% failed to identify bleeding during or after sex as warning signs to look out for. Furthermore there is obvious confusion over symptoms for cervical cancer against other conditions with 31% highlighting persistent bloating as a sign of cervical cancer.
Robert said: “We are very concerned about awareness levels of this disease and that’s why, through Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, we are calling for all women to take note of the disease’s symptoms, as well as seek medical advice if they experience any. Similarly we are also asking medical professionals to make their patients aware through face to face contact and by displaying our awareness materials.”
For further information contact Maddy Durrant, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust on 020 7936 7498 / 07772 290 064 or email [email protected]
Results in detail from the YouGov symptoms survey:
1. 93% of women overall would make an appointment with a doctor within a month if they found a lump in their breast
2. 53% of women overall would delay going to the doctor if they thought something might be wrong with their body, to see if it got any better or worse.
3. 14% of women overall wouldn’t make an appointment with a doctor for bleeding during or after intercourse, whilst 21% of 35-44 year olds and 19% of 25-34 year olds would take longer than a month to make an appointment with a medical professional
4. 1 in 5 18-24 year old women wouldn’t see a doctor if they bled during or after sexual intercourse
5. Almost half of all women surveyed (49%) wouldn’t make an appointment with a doctor within a month if they were to experience pain during sexual intercourse
6. For the 15% of 25-34 year old women who have experienced bleeding during or after sex, 55% did not see a doctor or health professional
7. For women that experienced post-menopausal bleeding, 32% did not see a doctor or health professional. Whilst of those that didn’t see a doctor or health professional within a couple of days of last experiencing this symptom, reasons included that they didn’t think it was important enough (18%) and a feeling that it would get better on its own (20%)
8. For women that experienced pain or discomfort during sex, 43% did nothing at all
9. Of those women across the survey who experienced bleeding during or after sex, 26% didn’t see a doctor or health professional within a couple of days as they thought it would get better on its own
10. For the 20% of women who experienced unusual and/ or unpleasant vaginal discharge, 27% didn’t see a doctor or health professional within a couple of days as they didn’t feel it was important enough, including 38% of 35-44 year olds; 32% of all the women surveyed said they thought it would get better on its own, including 44% of 35-44 year olds; whilst 24% of 18-24 year olds were too embarrassed to go to the doctor.
Notes to editor
1. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust (www.jostrust.org.uk) is the UK’s only charity dedicated to supporting women and their families affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. For the charity's national helpline call 0808 802 8000
2. The recognised symptoms of cervical cancer are:
- abnormal bleeding: bleeding in between periods; bleeding during or after sexual intercourse; post menopausal bleeding
- unusual discharge
- discomfort/pain during sex
- lower back pain.
3. Around three women in the UK die each day from cervical cancer, with nine women being diagnosed every day, facing an uncertain future. Over 300,000 women a year are told they may have a cervical abnormality that could require treatment.
4. It is estimated that the UK Cervical Screening Programmes save 5,000 lives every year and if HPV vaccination take up continues to reach at least 80% it is believed this could result in a 2/3rds reduction in incidence in women under 30 by 2025.
5. Cervical cancer is predominantly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which can be caught as soon as you start having intimate relationships.
6. *All statistics referenced with an asterisk are from Cancer Research UK
7. The YouGov survey was part funded thanks to a grant from Roche Diagnostics