Swindon health professionals hope that a harrowing documentary about Jade Goody's battle against cervical cancer airing on Thursday 12 December will highlight to women the vital need for regular cervical screening.
Controversial celebrity Jade was diagnosed with cervical cancer earlier this year.
Before a hysterectomy operation in September, doctors thought Jade had a 95 per cent chance of going into remission but, since discovering the extent of the disease, this figure has dropped to just above 50 per cent.
Cervical cancer can develop from an infection of a common virus known as human papillomavirus (HPV), which has a number of different strains. HPV can be acquired by any woman that has been sexually active and the immune system can usually fight off most strains of the infection. Occasionally however, HPV can lead to the development of abnormal cells which over time may become cancerous if left untreated.
Lynda Wearn, Deputy Director of Public Health for Swindon PCT, commented, "It is incredibly important for women to go for cervical screening. The early development of cervical cancer often causes no signs or symptoms and can only be detected by a smear test, which can pick up on abnormal cells before they become cancerous.
"We realise some people may feel anxious about going for a smear test but would urge women not to put off getting screened. The test takes about five minutes with most women describing it as a little uncomfortable but not painful. It can be done at a person's local GP surgery and patients will usually receive the results within three weeks.
"Although smear tests can feel a little embarrassing it is 100 per cent worth it in the long-run. Early detection and treatment of the disease can prevent the need for invasive surgery later on, such as a hysterectomy, and has saved countless lives. Estimates show that if all eligible women were regularly screened, 95% of deaths caused by cervical cancer could be avoided."
Routine screening starts at the age of 25 and between 25 and 49 women will receive a letter every three years from the Cervical Screening Programme team inviting them to come for a smear. Between the ages of 50 – 64 they will be invited every 5 years.
To reduce the risk of cervical cancer even further for the next generation of women, Swindon PCT has started rolling out an HPV vaccine to all Swindon girls in school year eight (12-13 year olds). The vaccine (Cervarix) will protect against strains of the HPV virus responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and has the potential to save up to 400 lives in the UK each year. The vaccine won't get rid of the virus if it has already caused infection however, which is why the vaccine is being rolled out to younger girls who are not yet sexually active.
Lynda added, "it is excellent that we are now taking steps to prevent cervical cancer as well as treat it, but we would like to remind women that although the vaccine will protect against the majority of HPV infections, it does not protect against them all. This is why we would still urge all young women, including those who have been vaccinated, to be part of cervical screening programme when invited."