Channel Island doctors highlight ways to prevent cervical cancer

Doctors across the Channel Islands are highlighting ways for women to protect themselves from cervical cancer.

It is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and GPs say there are four main ways people can protect themselves from the disease:

  • Having the HPV vaccination

  • Regularly attending free cervical screenings

  • Stopping smoking/not smoking

  • Knowing what symptoms to look out for

Doctors are urging women to give up smoking as it makes it harder for the body to clear HPV if they do so.

The symptoms of cervical cancer can include bleeding between periods or during/after sex or after the menopause.

Women are being advised to speak to their GP if they notice any of these changes.

More than 3,300 women had a screening in 2019 in Guernsey after the procedure was made free to those between 25 and 65.

It also became free for those in Alderney.

We have seen a big increase in the uptake of cervical smears since the start of the free cervical screening programme. It is fantastic that the availability of free screening has increased the access for women to this very important screening programme.

Dr Abigail Griffiths, Cervical Screening Advisory Group

Screenings have also been made free of charge in Jersey with figures showing a 22% increase in the number of samples received for testing, with 7,200 cervical tests taken in 2019.

It is great that more women attended their cervical screening appointment last year. We really hope this uptake continues in 2020, whether women choose to go to their own GP or have the test at Le Bas Centre. It's free of charge and women are very welcome to request a female GP.

Dr Fiona Nelson, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Jersey Health and Community Services

Cervical cancer is caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus which is spread through close skin-to-skin contact, usually during sexual activity.

Most HPV infections will disappear, but it sometimes persists and can lead to abnormalities in cervix cells.

A cervical screening looks for the presence of HPV. If it is found, it will look for cell abnormalities, which can be treated by a gynaecologist to help reduce the chances of cervical cancer occurring.

Since September 2019, the HPV vaccine has been offered to both boys and girls in year 8 in Guernsey.

It has been offered to boys in Jersey aged between 12 and 13 since March 2019.

Women who are aged between 25 and 49 are being advised to have a screening every three years. Those aged between 50 and 64 are recommended to go every five years.

Doctors say they understand why women find the screening embarrassing and if this is the case they should ask for a female doctor or nurse when booking their appointment.

However, one mother from Jersey is calling for the age of cervical screening to be lowered.

Cindy Fenten was 18 when abnormal bleeding prompted her to get a smear test and pre-cancerous cells were found.

But health bosses say testing women under 25 can do more harm than good.

They say it is more common for women below 25 to have mild changes in the cells in the cervix and they usually return to normal over time and do not increase the risk of cancer.