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This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (January 24 to 30), when participating GP surgeries will be helping to make women aware of the symptoms and causes of the disease, and advising on ways to prevent it.

In spite of national screening programmes, cervical cancer is still a real problem. Each day around eight women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three women lose their lives.

That’s a real tragedy considering that cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable.

Somewhat surprisingly, screening rates continue to fall in the UK.

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is an initiative led by the European Cervical Cancer Association and supported in the UK by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which says it is the only charity supporting the fight against cervical cancer in this country.

Information and advice

The charity offers helpful information and advice on its website and also operates a national helpline (0808 802 8000) for women who want more information.

In the vast majority of cases, cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).

It often has no symptoms in the early stages but can lead to unusual vaginal bleeding in between periods or after the menopause.

Girls aged between 12 and 13 are now routinely offered innoculation against HPV and it is hoped that will gradually help to beat cervical cancer.

However, it is vitally important for older women to take advantage of the screening services available them.

Women between the ages of 25 and 65 who are registered with a GP should be invited for cervical screening, traditionally known as a smear test. The test looks for changes in the lining of the cervix.

Statistically, screening reveals abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix in around 1 in 20 women.

In some cases, abnormal cells are removed so that they can’t become cancerous.

Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are some of the methods use to treat women in cases where the disease has progressed.

The earlier cervical cancer is detected and treated, the better.

Almost 1,000 women die from cervical cancer each year. Anything we can do to reduce that figure is worthwhile.