Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in New Zealand, with an average of 160 new diagnoses every year. It is estimated that around 80% of these cases are linked to HPV (Human Papillomavirus) infection, a very common virus that is often passed on by intimate relationships.
Most cervical cancers are diagnosed in women under 60, occurring mainly in women over 35 and less common in women under 25.
Other factors that could increase the risks of contracting cervical cancer are:
- Long-term use of oral contraceptives: Women who have used it for five or more years
- Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer
- Poor diet: Low in fruits and vegetables and high in fat
- Weakened immune system: Due to HIV or other factors can increase the risk of HPV infection and subsequent cervical cancer
- Age: The risk of cervical cancer increases with age, with the highest risk occurring over the age of 50
- Family history: Women with a family history of cervical cancer may have an increased risk
Because the early stages of abnormal changes to cervical cells (pre-cancer) are often asymptomatic, women usually find out about the cancer once it has progressed. Cervical cancer often takes ten years or more to develop.
Some of its signs and symptoms can seem to be common, but if unusual, persistent and/or painful, they should be checked by a doctor, and these include:
- Bleeding or spotting between periods, after sex or during menopause
- Unusual or persistent vaginal discharge
- Persistent pelvic pain
- Pain during sex
- Low back or abdominal pain
- Frequent fatigue
- Frequent or urgent urination
- Abdominal bloating
Prevention and regular screening tests
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women and prevention is the best way to reduce its risks. The most effective ways are:
Being vaccinated against HPV. The vaccine is FREE for men and women between 9 to 26 years old in any of our Local Doctors Clinics. Men can avoid passing HPV to women and vice versa.
Regular cervical cancer screenings, also known as smear tests, are important in the early detection and treatment of the illness. Women aged 25 to 69 who have been sexually active should have a cervical screening test every three years. The test is also FREE for our registered patients at any of our Local Doctors clinics. Non-enrolled patients aged between 25-69 years old can also get their smear test for FREE, paying only for their GP consultation.
Smear tests can help women identify not only cervical cancer but also detect infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and trichomoniasis, as well as other conditions such as endometriosis, polyps, and inflammation. Cervical cancer can be cured if diagnosed at an early stage and treated correctly.
If you have any of the symptoms above, visit our nearest Local Doctors clinic to you and talk to one of our nurses and doctors for professional evaluation and advice.