Simple message that can save 311,000 women each year

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·Features and Health Editor
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With the uncertainty of the pandemic to deal with and regular routine falling by the wayside, more and more women (or anyone with a cervix) have fallen behind in keeping up-to-date with their Cervical Screenings over the past two years.

During National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, Associate Professor Colonel Michael Campion is stressing how crucial it is that these screenings are conducted, as cervical cancer can be prevented with a simple test.

top view of female reproductive system and pills on pink
Heres's your reminder to book in for a pap smear! Photo: Getty

"The pandemic has meant many women have not kept up to date with their screening, it has created a whole group of inequalities and a whole group of vulnerable patients," Prof Campion, Chair of TruScreen’s Medical Advisory Committee, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

"National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week is about reminding women, particularly in the 30-39 year old range, that it is 'Time To Catch Up', and get screened."

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. In 2018, an estimated 570,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide, and about 311,000 women died from the disease.

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Cervical cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix. These abnormal cells can develop into tumours and in worst case scenarios – spread throughout the body. The cervix is part of the female reproductive system and is the narrow lower portion (or “neck”) of the uterus.

woman meeting doctor for test
Cervical cancer is one of the only preventable cancers with screening. Photo: Getty

There are two main types of cervical cancer which are named after the cells they start in:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: the most common type of cervical cancer (about 80% of all cases), squamous cell carcinoma starts in the squamous cells of the cervix.

  • Adenocarcinoma: a less common type of cervical cancer that develops from the glandular cells. Adenocarcinoma is more difficult to diagnose because it starts higher in the cervix, and is more difficult to reach with the brush or spatula used in a Cervical Screening Test.

Cancer Council reports that in 2017, there were 839 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in Australia and that is estimated to increase to 913 new cases of cervical cancer in 2021.

It is also estimated that a female has a 1 in 185 (or 0.54%) risk of being diagnosed with cervical cancer by the age of 85.

And yet - it is preventable.

That's why the World Health Organisation last year announced the Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative aims to see cervical cancer eliminated as public health issue by 2030.

"There are 600,000 new cases of cervical cancer each year worldwide. And Cervical cancer is the only preventable cancer," Prof Campion adds.

"Others like breast cancer or ovarian cancer we can pick them up a bit earlier, and screening may be appropriate, but we can’t prevent it. Cervical cancer is truly preventable, and of course the only we prevent it through screening."

That's why New Zealand-based medical tech company TruScreen has developed a new screening technology that will help meet WHO’s goal to eliminate cervical cancer. The device provides a proven alternative with real-time and accurate detection of cervical cancer that avoids many of the ongoing issues with conventional screening methods and could help reduce some of the hesitancy towards the generic test.

"In 1956, the American Cancer Society claimed that a screened women should not get cervical cancer, if she does it represents system failure," Prof Campion says.

"Here we are in the 21st century and there are still 600,000 cases of a truely preventable cancer."

Women over 25 should be getting a Pap smear every five years.

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