As Cervical Cancer Awareness Week begins, Fiona Parker speaks to a doctor and cancer survivor to find out why a simple screening test might just save your life.

IT is the most common cancer in women under 35 in the UK but the majority of cervical cancer cases can be prevented with early screening.

While York’s 74.4 per cent cervical screening uptake may be above the national average of 73.9, it means one in four women are still failing to go for screening.

A very simple procedure – the smear test – usually takes about five minutes to complete and involves the collection of cells with a small brush from the surface of the cervix.

All women in the UK aged 25 to 64 years old are invited for free cervical screening – at three-year intervals for younger women and five for others.

But it is a procedure dreaded by many, which can go some way to explain non-attendance.

“Women are fearful of the fact that it is a very intimate examination,” said Dr David Fair, of the Jorvik Medical Practice. “A lot of people understandably have a fear of cancer and there is always the worry of what to do if the result is positive.

“The majority of those who have had the test before will attend their next. It is the women who have never had the test before or who are part of the unreachable part of the population, these may be women from less affluent families, who are the least likely to attend.

“Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that we can actually prevent from happening. The test can identify cell abnormalities and any cells which could be at risk of developing into cancerous cells.”

Dr Fair said that in many cases cell abnormalities could be temporary.

The NHS estimates the screening programme can prevent and lead to the treatment of three in four cervical cancers.

Dr Fair said cervical cancer screenings were almost always carried out by female nurses who were sensitive to the intimate nature of the procedure.

The symptoms of cervical cancer include unusual vaginal bleeding, often after sex; pain or discomfort during sex and changes to the vaginal discharge. However, Dr Fair insists it is crucial to attend your smear test even if you have not shown these symptoms.

Tests can also come back abnormal due to changes in the cells which the body will correct itself. For those who do have abnormalities, cancer can be prevented through a procedure such as a cervical colposcopy and biopsy, two procedures which will not affect fertility.

“This nearly always prevents the cancer from developing,” said Dr Fair. His message about the importance of screening is echoed by mum-of-two Jayne Mason, 50, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 32. Jayne said that while she developed cancer despite attending smear tests, it was vital women took advantage of the free test.

Jayne, who owns the Fancy Dance shops in York and Harrogate, underwent treatment and was given the all-clear.

She said: “We are very lucky to have free cervical cancer screenings. I do think women should be encouraged to have the smear test. It only takes a few minutes and it is relatively painless.

“I really do feel there should be more media and social media coverage. I’m very concerned about the growing number of young girls and ladies 50-plus, as this cancer is no longer just for the mid-age range of females between 25 to 45.”

Dr Fair believes it is important to continue the legacy of sufferers such as TV celebrity Jade Goody.

He said: “When Jade Goody died in 2009 there was a huge increase in the uptake of cervical screenings.

“Women need to remember sufferers like her. It’s no use having David Cameron telling you to go to your smear test!”

Although cervical screening uptake in York is doing well in relation to the national average, the percentage of women attending their screenings has fallen since 2010 when 77.4 per cent of women attended their screenings.

Doctor Fair can only hope for a change in the trend.

He said: “Cervical cancer, if it is allowed to develop, is one of the most painful, degrading and disabling cancers you can have.

“Anybody who has ever been diagnosed with the cancer in a later stage after missing smear tests would be kicking themselves once they understand how much of a difference a cervical screening can make.”