Cervical cancer is described as one of the silent cancers as it is very difficult to diagnose. Cervical cancer kills about 1 in 120 women every year in Britain. The well-established method of preventing this disease is through effective screening. Mr Braithwaite recommends that all women have a smear test once each year to check for cervical cancer. A smear test is very effective as it shows any sign of development of cervical cancer many years before it becomes a risk. If a smear test result shows any significant changes, Mr Braithwaite may recommend a colposcopy.
Colposcopy is the name of the procedure that allows Mr Braithwaite to have a closer look at the cervix. This is not a painful procedure but it does require you to place your legs in the old-fashioned stirrups. This really is the worst aspect of this procedure. Mr Braithwaite will take a biopsy from the cervix that can be sent for analysis.
Mr Braithwaite’s practice is a BUPA-recognised Colposcopy Centre. This means he can offer this service very easily in our clinic environment.
If Mr Braithwaite decides that treatment is necessary then he will arrange for you to have a LLETZ (Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone) procedure at the Portland Hospital. Again this is a very simple procedure which is done as a day case. This all sounds rather daunting but following this advice ensures that you will not develop cervical cancer.
Vaccine to prevent cervical cancer (Cervarix)
A vaccine has been made available to help protect women against cervical cancer. It is called the Cervarix vaccine (Gardasil is a very similar vaccine but is developed by a different company) and is licensed for use across Europe. The vaccine is being offered by the NHS to all teenage girls in the UK. This is a very good idea and we will hopefully see a significant decline in the development of cervical cancer as a result of this policy.
Mr Braithwaite can administer this vaccine and it is given as 3 injections over a 6 month period.
About 90% of sexually active women can expect to have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection at some point in their lives. HPV can cause changes to occur to a woman’s cervix, which if left untreated, can develop into cervical cancer. It is important to emphasise that the vast majority of HPV cases do not develop into cervical cancer.
Women can protect themselves against HPV by avoiding unprotected sex and avoiding smoking. Women are advised to have annual smear tests.
The vaccine protects against cervical cancer caused by 4 strains of HPV. These are strains 6, 11, 16 and 18. If a woman has been exposed to any of these strains prior to having the vaccine, there will be no protection against that strain. However it will still be effective against the other strains. In trials there were no patients who had been exposed to all 4 strains i.e. it is very rare for someone not to benefit from the vaccine. It also protects against genital warts.