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Women urged to attend potentially life-saving cervical screening appointments despite the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic

Women in Norfolk and Waveney are being urged to attend routine screening appointments for cervical cancer despite the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Some women may have missed or will have delayed responding to screening invites, but the NHS in Norfolk and Waveney is keen to get all women back into screening as swiftly and as safely as possible.

Going for your routine cervical screening is still vitally important and it can be life-saving.

Cervical Screening Awareness Week is taking place this week (15-21 June) and aims to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening which offers the greatest protection against cervical cancer, with smear tests preventing 75% of cervical cancers.

The number of women attending cervical screening in the UK is falling and this has been accelerated during coronavirus. However, early diagnosis is key to improving survival rates.

When cancer is diagnosed at an early stage there is a much greater chance of being able to treat it successfully – often with less invasive procedures and fewer long-term side effects.

Dr Linda Hunter, cancer lead for the Norfolk and Waveney Health and Care Partnership, said: “Due to the coronavirus pandemic some women may have missed or will have delayed responding to screening invites.

“We are working closely with all our partners to swiftly and safely re-introduce women to cervical screening and to ensure there is capacity and systems in place to be able to respond to the increased demand. Screening is important for the earliest detection of abnormal cells so we urge all women to book their screening appointment when they receive their invitation.”

Dr Hunter added: “We know that 1 in 4 women don’t take up their smear invitations. If you are one of these then I really urge you to reconsider as this could be a life-saver.”

Cervical screening can find changes and high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) early before it develops into cancer. Last year saw the national HPV vaccination programme, which is delivered in schools, extended to include boys as well as girls.

If cervical screening attendance increases and with the introduction of the HPV vaccine, within the next 10 years, it is expected that we will see a noticeable drop in cervical cancer rates and improved survival.

When found early, cervical cancer is highly treatable and associated with high survival rates so raising awareness of symptoms, encouraging cervical screening attendance and noticing any changes which are unusual for you and your body is vital.

Below are the key ways in which you can reduce your risk of getting cervical cancer:

  • attending cervical screening when invited
  • knowing the symptoms of cervical cancer and seeking medical advice if experiencing any symptoms
  • taking up the HPV vaccination if aged 11-18
  • talking to friends and family to ensure they know how they can reduce their risk
  • knowing where to find support and further information

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms or the symptoms may not be obvious. The most common symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • vaginal bleeding that is unusual for you, including after the menopause, after sex, or between regular periods
  • changes to vaginal discharge
  • pain or discomfort during sex
  • unexplained pain in your lower back or between your hip bones (pelvis).

It is important to remember that these symptoms usually happen for reasons other than cervical cancer. But it is also important to contact your GP practice straight away, so you can get reassurance and support.

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