Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women after breast cancer. Each year, approximately 500,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed and more than 250,000 women die. ~ ifpa.ie
That’s a pretty chilling fact to open this post with but it is just that – a fact. More than half the women that get diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide each year will die. A lot of those women didn’t have to end up being another statistic.
In 2014, in Ireland approximately 300 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer. 95 of those women died. In the UK, 3224 women were diagnosed and 890 of those women died.
I want you to be aware, take the required action and don’t become the next statistic.
What is the cervix?
The cervix or the neck of the womb makes up part of the female reproductive system. It is cylindrical shaped and is found deep inside the vagina. The cells here constantly change due to the levels of hormones in the body. The amount of mucus the cervix produces changes constantly due to pregnancy, menopause and/or menstruation. The mucus can be more acidic due to the effects of the contraceptive pill, acting a barrier against sperm. And of course, this mucus also helps for the plug in the cervix during pregnancy. So yes, your cervix does a lot.
What is cervical cancer? Are there different types? Symptoms?
The cancer usually takes over the lining of the cervix via the cells. This results in two main types – Squamous cell cancer or adenocarcinoma. The squamous cell version is more common and it attacks the outer cervix. The adenocarcinoma isn’t as common though the amount of cases has increased, every 1 in 10 cases of cervical cancer will be adenocarcinoma. This version usually attacks the inside of the cervix and produces a mucus while doing so. Both cancers are treated the same way.
Symptoms vary person to person. Pain during/after sex, unusual smelling discharge and unusual bleeding behaviors are the most common. Many other harmless conditions can cause those symptoms too so if you are experiencing those – don’t freak out. Mention it to your nurse or GP for your own peace of mind.
How can I prevent myself getting cervical cancer?
Regular smear/pap tests and observe your body. You know when something doesn’t feel right. Take the appropriate steps – see your nurse or GP.
I really can’t stress how important they are. They take seconds to do but they can save your life.
Why are you even writing about this?
Well it is something I feel strongly about because I have been and currently am affected by it. I haven’t got cervical cancer, thankfully. But, I was diagnosed with the step before and it frightened the crap outta me. Below I’ll explain my story and why I feel no matter what any doctor says I’ll always know my body better.
Going back a few years, I got a letter from our cervical screening system to attend a clinic for a smear. I was 25 at the time and these letters automatically at that age. My results were normal. I was attend again in three years time.
Next smear, age 28, abnormal results. Come back in a year. A YEAR ?? Like a whole year?? Yet every doctor I asked this was the normal standard procedure.
Age 29, normal results. I was told this time I needed to be re smeared again in a year. However, I was told (possibly by mistake) on the phone, I had low grade cells. Why I was left with low grade cells for a year is beyond me. They put it down to natural changes in the body etc.
Still, age 29 and with six months to go to my next ‘actual’ smear date, I was visiting my own gynae and I explained what had happened and how I didn’t feel right. I could feel my body being ill. I was informed there is no way I could know if I had pre-cancerous cells. They have no symptoms. I still demanded I have another smear done.
The results showed I had high grade cells and I had to attend my local colposcopy. She nipped a bit off my cervix and sent them off. I opted to have a local anesthetic. Nurse informed my heart rate would increase and this would result in my legs shaking.
Results showed I had CIN level 3 – the next step was cancer. Funny how doctors were telling me I couldn’t know but my body was telling me otherwise. Keep in mind, I had no abnormal discharge or bleeding.
Treatment involved having a LLETZ (Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone) which essentially means they chopped the top of my cervix off. The after affects of that weren’t too pleasant – if interested comment below and I might do a blog post about it. In 6 months time after treatment, I was back again for another colposcop y. This time I opted for no anesthetic. I figured the first time involved a needle and a nip. This time was just the nip and it was totally doable.
Results showed they had removed everything successfully but I would need another smear in six months. That brings me to now. I had that last smear just before Christmas. Fingers crossed it is still clear.
I cannot stress the importance of a 10 second smear test because it COULD save your life. A few minutes embarrassment could save you and your family a lot of heartache further down the line. January is cervical cancer awareness month for a reason – new year and a new opportunity to do something you would usually be afraid of.
Please be aware these are my personal experiences. I am NOT a GP or any form of medical professional. If you have worries, please contact your health professional.