The BBC carried a report from James Gallagher today (4 November 2021)  with some good news. It seems that data shows that the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine is  cutting cervical cancer by nearly 90%.

Cancer Research UK described the findings as “historic” saying that it showed the vaccine was saving lives. The eventual hope is that this cancer, which is almost always caused by viruses, could be eliminated altogether.  It is currently the fourth most common cancer and kills around 300,000 a year.

The cancer is often detected through a smear test.  However, some countries have little access to this service and the cancer goes unnoticed until it becomes untreatable. It often doesn’t have any symptoms, so the test can be the only way of detecting it.

Even in countries like he UK, which does have a cervical cancer screening service, many women fail to take the test. It is not painful;  perhaps a little uncomfortable, but there are other reasons for lack of take-up as well.  Some women just “do not get round to it”, or they find it embarrassing .  The BBC report quotes one woman, Laura Flaherty, as saying:

 “At the age of 29,  I was diagnosed after a routine smear test. I’d put it off for four months – and while it wouldn’t have made a difference to my diagnosis – it just shows how important it is to keep up to date with your smears”

Laura was lucky-hers was caught in time and treated, but others may not be.  But it’s not really a matter of luck.  As Laura says, the service is there to be used and it is important to have regular testing.  Breast cancer screening is the same.

Girls in the UK are offered the vaccine between the ages of 11 and 13 and boys have also been offered the vaccine since 2019.

The study, which was published in the medical journal The Lancet, observed what happened after the introduction of the vaccine, which was offered first to girls in 2008.  Now adults, when the girls were looked at again, they showed a reduction in pre-cancerous growth and an 87% reduction in cervical cancer.  In figures, this translates as preventing about 450 cancers and 17, 200 pre-cancers.  As Professor Sasieni, one of the researchers at King’s College London says:

“The impact has been huge”

The clinical negligence team here at Ringrose see a lot of cases where delay in diagnosis, or failure to diagnose various conditions has made them much worse in the long term than they should have been, or very sadly, sometimes the delay proves fatal.  It is true to say that sometimes the delays or failures ARE caused by negligence, but some aren’t.  The lump that was ignored;  that mole getting a bit bigger, a cough that won’t go away, blood where it shouldn’t be-please get them all checked out.

We know it is not so easy these days with the disruption caused to medical services by the pandemic, but keep trying. If there is a screening service or a test you can have, take the opportunity to have it.  It is a bit of a cliché, but it could save your life.

We are always happy to discuss if you think this may have happened to you

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