The cervix is a distinct part of the womb, being the narrow ‘neck’ of the womb that links it to the vagina. Cervical cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages. If you have symptoms, the most common is unusual vaginal bleeding, which can occur after sex, in between periods or after the menopause.
Abnormal bleeding doesn’t mean that you definitely have cervical cancer, but it’s a cause for concern. It’s important to see your GP as soon as possible. If your GP suspects you might have cervical cancer, you should be referred to see a specialist within two weeks.
Over the course of many years, the cells lining the surface of the cervix undergo changes. In rare cases, these changed cells can become cancerous. However, cell changes in the cervix can be detected at a very early stage, and simple local treatments can reduce the risk of cervical cancer developing.
Screening for cervical cancer is quite a simple procedure. A small sample of cells is taken from the cervix by lightly scrping with a small wooden spoon and checked under a microscope. This is the cervical smear test.
In the NHS, women who are between 25 and 49 years old are screened every three years, and women between 50 and 64 are screened every five years.
If cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it’s usually treated by surgery. In some cases, it’s possible to leave the womb in place. But sometimes it will need to be removed. This is known as a hysterectomy. Radiotherapy may be an alternative to surgery for some women with early stage cervical cancer.
More advanced cases of cervical cancer are usually treated using a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.