All women, whatever their age, need to be cervical cancer aware. Regular screening when invited and visiting the doctor as soon as symptoms present is vital.

For younger women and girls the situation is more complicated.  Menstrual irregularities are more common and cancer of the cervix is less common so can easily be missed. In addition to which screening by smears doesn’t begin until the age of 25 years. So being cervical cancer aware at this difficult age is very important.

Thankfully there is now a vaccine available for school-age children which it is VERY important to take-up. Although it doesn’t completely remove the risk it does massively reduce it. Vaccinated women will still be called for screening but the likelihood of finding cervical cancer is low.

Some parents choose not to have their daughters vaccinated, and although I can sympathise and identify with the anxiety behind it, it is a decision I find hard to understand. If you know any young women, or indeed anyone, affected by cervical cancer, it is hard to see why anyone would take the risk.

Cervical Cancer Vaccination

NHS.UK – HPV Vaccine

All girls can get the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine free from the NHS from the age of 12 up to their 18th birthday. It helps protect them against cervical cancer, which is the most common cancer in women under 35 in the UK. In England, girls aged 12 to 13 years are routinely offered the first HPV vaccination when they’re in school year 8. The second dose is normally offered 6 to 12 months after the first (in school year 8 or year 9). 

The HPV vaccine is effective at stopping girls getting the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. It’s important to have both doses to be protected.

Is the vaccine safe?

Understandably a lot of parents question the safety of vaccinations. In the past, the media have scared us with exaggerated or inaccurate stories of vaccinations, so as a parent myself, I have spent time researching and debating whether or not to have my children treated.

But the nurse in me has seen the consequence of diseases. My father-in-law was a GP and during the MMR scandal, he gave me some sound advice. He asked me to consider which outcome I would regret more – the small chance of a treatable reaction to a vaccination or my child getting a life-threatening disease? How would I feel about my decision then? (There are around nine cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every day in the UK alone)

NHS.UK – is the vaccine safe?

STI's - Know you Sexual Health

‘A vaccine can only be used in people if scientific tests, called clinical trials, show it is safe and effective, and that the benefits outweigh any risks.

The cervical cancer vaccine’s safety record is excellent and it has passed the rigorous safety tests needed for it to be used in the UK and other European countries.

It was safety tested as part of the licensing process, with over 70,000 doses used in clinical trials before a licence was granted. (It’s now licensed in more than 90 other countries.)

In total, more than 1.4 million doses of the vaccine have since been given in Britain, and millions more worldwide’.

Awareness and prevention in older women

Older girls and women who missed out on the vaccine at school can take steps to prevent cervical cancer. Screening with regular smear tests is a very effective way of preventing cervical cancer as, done regularly, it can detect abnormal cells on the cervix before they develop into cancer. Please note: even if you or your daughters have had the vaccine they still need to attend for regular screening from the age of 25 as it does not entirely remove the risk of certain cervical cancers.

NHS.UK – cervical screening

All women who are registered with a GP are invited for cervical screening:

  • aged 25 to 49 – every 3 years
  • aged 50 to 64 – every 5 years
  • over 65 – only women who haven’t been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests.

 Worrying decline in women taking up cervical screening invitation.

Sadly, over the past ten years there has been a worrying decline in the number of women taking up their invitations for cervical screening.

‘Of the UK women eligible for cervical screening, almost 3.7 million are putting themselves at risk of life-threatening cervical cancer by not attending cervical screening within the last five years. This means that one in four UK women are not attending their cervical screening.’  Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

As well as attending all your screening appointments it is incredibly important to report ANY unusual symptoms to your GP even if you have recently had your smear test. Be pushy, demand further investigations if you are young and feel that your age is being used as the reason not to take it any further or if you are in any doubt.

RELATED: STIQ Day: Know Your Sexual Health