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Following concerns around cervical screening uptake in Wales and the results of a recent UK study showing low awareness of the symptoms of cervical cancer, UK charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and Tenovus, Welsh cancer charity, have joined forces to raise awareness of cervical cancer prevention and early detection in Wales.
Currently almost 1 in 4 (23.5%) Welsh women do not take up their cervical screening invitation and this figure rises to 26.3% in the Cardiff and Vale area. In addition a UK-wide YouGov poll has shown a lack of awareness of the symptoms of cervical cancer and revealed 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.
At the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (January 20-26) both charities are now calling for women in Wales to take up their cervical screening invitation as well as seek medical advice if they are experiencing any symptoms of the disease.
The results of the YouGov survey commissioned by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, 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 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.
Following these findings and ongoing concerns around prevention Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and Tenovus are now working together to promote awareness in Wales.
Maura Matthews, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Tenovus, said: “This month we’ll be out on the road delivering our usual health check in the community with employees at T-Mobile and students and staff at Cardiff University.
“This month, as part of our health check, we’ll be highlighting the importance of screening to women and young girls, as well as information and advice on what symptoms they should be looking out for, and who to speak to if they are worried.
“We’re extremely pleased to be working with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to help reinforce the need to attend screenings so that uptake does not drop further in Wales."
Robert Music, Director, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “With 1 in 4 Welsh women missing out on this life saving test we’re delighted to be working with Tenovus to reach those women who are not being screened regularly.
“Along with prevention we are also concerned with women’s awareness of the symptoms of the disease as early detection is key to improving survival rates and quality of life. 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. In turn this may lead to more invasive treatments, a poorer quality of life and ultimately a lower chance of survival.”
Across the UK cervical cancer is now the most common cancer for women under 35* and particularly concerning from the YouGov survey results are for women aged 25-34 who haven’t had cervical cancer. 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.
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 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.
The activity is part of an ongoing campaign to raise awareness of cervical cancer prevention in Wales. Previous activities include a partnership workshop for key workers with national domestic violence charity Women’s Aid, aimed at giving them the knowledge and skills to promote cervical cancer prevention including screening amongst women living in refuge. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust also ran a bus advertising campaign in 2012 which targeted Cardiff women – where uptake is lowest – to encourage them to take up their cervical screening invitation.
For further information contact Maddy Durrant, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust on 020 7936 7498 / 07772 290 064 or email [email protected]
For further information on Tenovus please contact Liz Rawlins 029 2076 8789 or email [email protected]
UK results in detail from the YouGov symptoms survey:
1. 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.
2. Of the 21% of women who had experienced pain or discomfort during sex, 68% did not see a medical professional.
3. 93% of women overall would make an appointment with a doctor within a month if they found a lump in their breast
4. 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.
5. 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
6. 1 in 5 18-24 year old women wouldn’t see a doctor if they bled during or after sexual intercourse
7. 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
8. 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
9. For women that experienced post menopausal bleeding, 31% 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 (17%) and a feeling that it would get better on its own (20%)
10. For women that experienced pain or discomfort during sex, 43% did nothing at all
11. 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
12. 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
13. 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 39% 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. Tenovus (www.tenovus.org.uk) is Wales’ leading cancer charity bringing treatment, care, support and research right to the heart of communities. Freephone Cancer Support line call 0808 808 1010
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Cervical cancer is predominantly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which can be caught as soon as you start having intimate relationships.
7. *All statistics referenced with an asterix are from Cancer Research UK