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surviving cervical cancer

What affects your chances of surviving cervical cancer?

Despite the strong preventative measures in place, 3,200 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK. And according to Cancer Research UK, more than 50% of those diagnosed survive for 10 years or more.

Here we look at what can affect cervical cancer survival rates.

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What's the survival rate of cervical cancer?

The survival rate for cervical cancer depends on many different factors, such as your age and health, but one of the most important factors is how early it is diagnosed. In its early stages, or at the first signs of cell changes that might lead to cancer, cervical cancer can be effectively treated. However, late diagnosis can make an enormous difference.

"Early diagnosis is incredibly important with cervical cancer," says molecular engineer and cancer researcher, Dr Angela Pine. Of those diagnosed with stage 1 cervical cancer, more than 90% will survive for more than a year. But with a diagnosis of stage 4, that number drops to 50%."

We explore what can affect your chances of survival from cervical cancer.

Improvements in treatment

Research into preventing and treating all types of cancer is ongoing, with new treatments on the horizon. And, like many other forms of cancer, the survival rate for cervical cancer has improved over the past decade.

"We have seen survival rates in the UK improve and they have been doing so for quite some time," says Pine. She adds that this may have changed during the pandemic years due to reduced access for cervical screening appointments, but data has yet to be released.

There is no doubt the progress made should be celebrated. However, the screening and preventative measures available for cervical cancer could almost eliminate the disease entirely1, so there is still much to be done.

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Attending your cervical screening

Cervical screening is effective at identifying or ruling out the woman at risk of cervical cancer. However, only 40-50% of women and people with cervices who are invited for a screening test take up the offer.

The screening tests both for high-risk HPV (Human Papillion Virus - a virus transmitted by close bodily contact and responsible for 99.8% of cervical cancer cases) - and for pre-cancerous cells. Therefore, attending the test could mean that your cancer can be treated and eliminated before it takes a meaningful hold.

Low uptake of screening tests, however, means that in many cases, cervical cancer is being diagnosed at a later stage than it should be.

Also, a vaccine programme against HPV has been in place since 2009 for girls - and 2016 for boys - that aims to protect people from contracting the virus in the first place. While uptake of the vaccine is fairly high - around 70% - this rate could still be improved.

There are a number of reasons why women may be hesitant to attend their cervical screening (smear test).

Discomfort and embarrassment

The screening involves a sample of cells being taken from the cervix. Although pain is minimal, the procedure can be uncomfortable and feel scary. And because it is a gynaecological examination, some women may find it embarrassing.

Fear or trauma

Some women feel reluctant to attend the test because of its invasive nature. The idea of a gynaecological examination can be daunting for some, and may even be traumatic - especially to survivors of sexual abuse.

Lack of understanding

While charities and health care providers are working hard to get the message out there, not everyone fully understands the importance of cervical cancer screening, or realises the important part it plays in cancer prevention. There are also several myths that can put women off attending.

Spotting the symptoms

If you miss your cervical screening or are overdue your screening - book in with your GP practice to get your cervical screening as soon as you can, otherwise, the only other way to spot cervical cancer is once you have symptoms. In its early stages, cervical cancer is usually symptom free. This means that if you rely on symptom spotting alone, you could be diagnosed late when the cancer has already progressed.

It's also possible that if you do have symptoms, it can take a while for them to be linked with cervical cancer. This is because they can also be a sign of other health problems that a doctor has to investigate and rule out.

Common symptoms of cervical cancer include

  • Bleeding after sex.

  • Pain or discomfort during sex.

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding - bleeding in between periods or periods are longer or heavier.

  • Changes to vaginal discharge.

  • Bleeding after menopause.

  • Pain in your lower back, pelvis and stomach that doesn't go away

All of these symptoms could be signs of something other than cervical cancer, but don't dismiss or ignore them. It's important to seek medical advice if you experience the above symptoms and, if necessary, to raise the possibility of cervical cancer with your doctor.

"It's about knowing your body and what's normal for you" explains Kate Sanger, spokesperson for cervical cancer charity Jo's Trust. "Make sure you outline the symptoms carefully to your GP. There is guidance available for clinicians, and if you present with these symptoms they need to explore further into all possible causes."

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Further reading

  1. Cancer Research UK: Cervical cancer statistics

  • Pain in your lower back, pelvis and lower stomach.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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