Women who are unwell or have other diseases when diagnosed with cervical cancer are more likely to die from their cancer diagnosis, than women who have better overall health.
Despite most health issues not being linked to the cancer itself, new research from Cancer Council Queensland, in collaboration with Menzies School of Health Research, shows that only 37 per cent of women with certain comorbidities recorded at the time of diagnosis survive five years, compared with 79 per cent of women who did not have other health conditions.
In light of the research, Cancer Council Queensland is urging women to put their health first for Women’s Health Week (September 3-7) by taking part in the National Cervical Screening Program and encouraging loved ones to do the same.
Cancer Council Queensland CEO Ms Chris McMillan said increased participation in the cancer screening program was vital to saving more lives.
“If detected early, treatment for cervical cancer can be more effective, even when people have other health concerns at the time of diagnosis,” Ms McMillan said.
“Early detection saves lives and one of the easiest ways to ensure a cervical cancer diagnosis is picked up early, is by taking part in the recommended screening program.
“Currently only 53 per cent of women in Queensland take part in the program.”
Around 200 women in Queensland are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 60 women die from the disease.
“1 in 2 women are not screened – that’s half of our female friends, or family members, leaving themselves at risk,” Ms McMillan said.
“If everyone encouraged just one person to take part in the cervical screening program, we could increase screening rates and in turn save the lives of hundreds of women.
“Together, we need to do more to ensure women take part in eligible screening programs and get to know their bodies to aid with early detection.”
The renewed National Cervical Screening Program enables women aged 25-74 to get screened every five years.
“Evidence shows that using the cervical screening test every five years is more effective than, and just as safe as, screening with a pap test every two years,” Ms McMillan said.
“The new test will detect changes one step earlier than the former pap test. While this looked for cell changes in the cervix, the new test looks for the presence of the Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) which can lead to cell changes in the cervix.
“As HPV normally takes 10 or more years to develop into cervical cancer, it is safe to wait five years between tests if HPV was not detected.”
People aged between 25 and 74 years old, who have a cervix and have ever been sexually active, should take part in the new program – even if they have received the HPV vaccine.
However, if women do experience symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge or pain, they should see a health care professional immediately, regardless of when they were last screened, or their age.
Ms McMillan said the research also highlighted the need for cancer care guidelines and multidisciplinary care that could meet the needs of patients with multiple health problems.
“Women who have complex health issues and other diseases or disorders at the time of a cervical cancer diagnosis need to have access to comprehensive care for all areas of their health to help improve the chance of survival,” she said.
Cancer Council has developed an easy and interactive website for women who want to find out more information: www.cancer.org.au/cervicalscreening.
Alternatively, women can call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 or speak with their GP to find out more.
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