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Awareness campaign launches across region at start of Cervical Cancer Prevention week

20th January 2020

The NHS across Lancashire and South is launching an awareness raising campaign “Let’s Talk Cancer” to encourage people who are eligible, to attend for cervical screening.

This comes as health and care organisations across the region get behind Jo’s Trust’s annual cervical cancer prevention week. Latest figures show that seven in 10 people attended their cervical screening appointment last year but that one million didn’t attend their appointment which has led to screening numbers plummeting to a 20-year low.

Women and people with a cervix aged between 24.5 and 49 are eligible for screening every three years, whilst those aged between 50 and 64 should be screened every five years.

Tricia Spedding, Lancashire and South Cumbria’s Head of Public Health said: “There is a common misconception that cervical screening is to check for cancer, which can be a scary thought. In actual fact the aim of the cervical screening programme is to identify those at higher risk of developing cervical cancer, so they can be monitored and treated well before any cancer develops.”

Cervical screening prevents around 4000 people with a cervix developing cervical cancer in the UK each year. In Lancashire and South Cumbria last year 31,000 people did not attend their screening test when invited. 

Although in Lancashire and South Cumbria cervical screening uptake has increased over the last couple of years, the region is still well below the national target of 80%.

Tricia added: “In certain groups particularly younger women age 25 to 35; women from an ethnic minority background; women who identify as LGBTQ and those with a learning disability, uptake is significantly lower.”

Liz Long was diagnosed with cervical cancer at just 29 years old. A new mum to eight-month-old Olive, her and her family’s lives were turned upside down by her diagnosis. Liz was first invited for screening when she was 25, she attended her appointment at her GP practice and results came back clear. When Liz was due for her next screening she was pregnant with Olive and as screening isn’t permitted during pregnancy Liz’s test was delayed.

Following Olive’s birth, Liz made her usual appointment for the cervical screening test as soon as she was able, it was the results of this test which changed Liz’s life. 

Abnormal cells were discovered in her test and she was invited to attend for a colposcopy. This procedure is very similar to a cervical screening test, a microscope is used to see inside the cervix and a special dye is applied to highlight any areas of abnormal cells.

Often these abnormal cells are nothing to worry about and can be left alone but sometimes, if they are found to be potentially pre-cancerous, they can be removed through various simple treatments including cryotherapy or by laser. In Liz’s case an aggressive tumour was found resulting in a cervical cancer diagnosis.

The only treatment option which would fully clear Liz of cancer was a full hysterectomy, the removal of her womb. Liz said: “My husband Mark and I had always dreamed of having more children, we had only just started our family and the thought of that potentially coming to an end filled me with dread.”

“Following the operation, Mark and I were told that the tissues and lymph nodes that had been removed had been checked over and no abnormalities were found. I was cancer free and required no further treatment. The emotion we felt is hard to describe. Obviously, we felt relieved and incredibly grateful.”

Dr Neil Smith, GP said: “Without a doubt the key to reducing the amount of women affected by cervical cancer is screening. Cervical screening is the best way of identifying women who are high risk of developing cervical cancer. This can be monitored and treated before any cancer develops increasing the chances of successful treatment. 

“The screening is a simple test that takes about five minutes and is easily accessible from your GP practice. When you receive your screening invitation book your appointment and give yourself the best chance for early detection and treatment.”

You can read more about Liz’s story here

Almost a year later from her diagnosis and cancer free, Liz is joining the NHS locally as an ambassador for the “Let’s talk cancer” cervical screening campaign which aims to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening to the people eligible.

Liz is also joining a Facebook live chat on Wednesday 22 January from 7pm – 8pm, to tell her story. The Facebook live, hosted by Library House Surgery in Chorley, will give viewers the opportunity to find out more about the cervical screening test. 

They will be able to ask a panel of experts including local doctors and nurses about the test, why it is important, what happens during the test and how you can make an appointment.

Dr Smith added: “We want Let’s talk cancer to be an opportunity for us to talk more about what it’s like to attend for screening. We want to encourage everyone to share their experiences – talk to your friends, relatives and loved ones about it, it really could save lives.”

You can join the Facebook live event here.

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