'It takes just a few minutes but it can save your life' - Beccles mother urges others to have cervical smear
Health correspondent Geraldine Scott looks at concerns awareness of a serious health issue impacting women is falling.
It is one of the most serious health issues affecting women in our region today.
But the numbers of women ensuring they have their routine cervical screening has dropped - prompting warnings from leading charities.
Around 3,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed and just under 1,000 women die from the disease in the UK each year.
Cervical cancer is the 13th most common cancer for women in the UK - but unlike other forms, it specifically affects women and is particularly dangerous as there are often no symptoms in the early stages.
Because of this, campaigners say cervical screening is the most effective way of detecting the disease and treating it quickly.
This, is turn, could save the lives of thousands of mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers.
But the number of people taking up the routine screenings - known as smear tests - has fallen.
Charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust says the situation across East Anglia mirrors the national picture, which shows coverage among 25 to 64-year-olds in England has fallen from 72.7pc to 72pc in the last year, with more than 1.2m women not taking up a screening invitation.
It is now the lowest it has been for 20 years.
• In Norfolk, overall coverage is down from 74.8pc to 74.4pc, 72.8pc among those aged 25-49.
• In Suffolk, rates are down from 74.5pc to 74.1pc, dropping to 72.2pc among 25-49-year-olds.
The charity is further concerned that only 71.6pc of women receive their cervical screening results within two weeks, far below the national target of 98.1pc and a huge drop from 89.1pc the year before.
Almost all (99.7pc) of cervical cancers are caused by the persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which causes changes to cervical cells. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting genital HPV and teenage girls are now routinely vaccinated against the virus.
Becky Marsh, from Beccles, in one of those who always takes up the screening and she has urged others to make sure they go along.
The mother-of-one had always had normal results until 2014, where abnormal cells were detected and further tests showed she had early-stage cancer.
“I had no symptoms whatsoever before that routine smear test in 2014 and without it wouldn’t have known I had cancer until a later stage, when it would have been much more serious and difficult to treat,” she said.
“I didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy because my problems were discovered early.
“I dread to think what would have happened if I hadn’t gone for that appointment in 2014.
“Just a year later and I could have ended up having a hysterectomy and lost the chance to have any more children.”
Treatment was a Lletz, or ‘loop’, procedure, where a small wire loop with an electrical current running through it cuts away affected tissue and seals the wound at the same time.
Further tests after treatment came back clear and Becky is now having yearly check-ups.
But Becky added: “My experience shows just how important routine screening is and why I would always advise women to go.
“It’s free and takes just a few minutes. But it can save your life.”
When reality TV star Jade Goody died from cervical cancer in 2009, aged just 27, there was a surge in the number of women attending their smear tests.
Dubbed “the Jade Goody effect” the surge was mainly made up of young women - and research showed more than 400,000 extra cervical screening appointment attendances were recorded in England between mid-2008 and mid-2009.
But since, rates have dropped and Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, says the latest NHS figures show “the Jade Goody effect is long gone”.
In the healthcare overhaul plan for the region, known as the Sustainability and Transformation Plan, health chiefs have promised to focus on screening for cervical cancer, alongside bowel and lung cancer.