Cervical Cancer Prevention Week
Legal secretary Marianne Nicholson, from Saintfield, is helping Cancer Focus Northern Ireland raise awareness of the disease and highlight the signs and symptoms during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, January 18-24.
Marianne (44) said: “Since my diagnosis, I’ve been very keen to raise awareness. Early diagnosis saves lives so as well as going for your regular smear tests when called, women should also contact their GP if they suspect anything is wrong.”
Marianne was diagnosed with Stage 1b1 cervical cancer – adenocarcinoma – in July 2017 following her first smear test in four years, after ignoring her routine three year invitation.
She’d been having abnormal bleeding along with lower back pain for a few months but thought the pill she was on was playing havoc with her system. It was only when a good friend urged her to go for a smear that she found out she had cervical cancer. Then she had to wait for the results of an MRI scan to define the staging of the cancer.
“Nothing will ever really prepare you for being told you have cancer,” she said. “But you do accept it and manage to get on with your life. My surgery, a radical hysterectomy with lymph node removal, was scheduled for September 2017 and I came through this successfully. I also had endometriosis and this was taken away with my tumour.
“The aftermath of having cancer and major surgery was up and down but I would say I handled it better than I thought I ever would. I went back to work after six weeks which helped me a great deal because I felt I was getting my life back to ‘normal’, so to speak.
“I had major surgery and I’m now out the other side. I try to have a more positive outlook on life and tell myself it could have been so much worse for me and there are people much worse off and I am one of the lucky ones! I still do have the odd bad day but I get through it and pick myself up," she added.
“It was my smear test that caught mine so early on but I worry that some women might not go when they are called for their appointments. Women need to realise how important smears are in detecting cervical cancer and also to look out for the signs,” she said.
Naomi Thompson, senior cancer prevention officer, Cancer Focus NI, said: “Around 100 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Northern Ireland each year. A smear test is designed to spot any unusual changes before cancer develops. This is why it is so important to go for your smear test when you are called.
“Women aged 25-50 are invited to cervical screening every three years and every five years between the ages of 50 and 64. Screening programmes were paused for four months last year due to Covid-19, which has led to a backlog. However, we would urge women to continue to take up their invitation for screening when they receive one.
“When you make your appointment, your GP practice will be able to advise you on all the steps they are taking to keep you and their staff safe at this time. While you wait for your invite it is important to be symptom aware. You should report any symptoms to your doctor as soon as possible.”
Naomi added: “The HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccine is also offered to young people aged 12 and 13 and can reduce the risk of cervical cancer by 70%.
“Often there are no symptoms for cervical cancer. However, see your GP if you notice bleeding after sex, bleeding between periods, bleeding after the menopause, heavy discharge or pain during sex
“These symptoms are often caused by something less serious and don’t usually mean it’s cancer. However, finding cancer early makes it more treatable. A trip to the doctor could be lifesaving. If in doubt get it checked out. If it’s not serious your mind will be put at rest.”
For more information visit https://cancerfocusni.org/cancer-info/types-of-cancer/cervical-cancer/.