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The HPV Vaccine effect?

The death of reality TV star Jade Goody age 27 in 2009, almost 10 years ago, brought about a greater awareness of cervical cancer and consequently for the years following her highly publicised death, cervical screening rates increased across the UK. A recent BBC report, however, has alarmingly reported that screening rates are now at their lowest in two decades (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-45593583 ). A report in The Guardian described a ‘sharp rise in those ignoring invitations to be screened’. 

Cervical screening, more commonly known as a ‘smear test’, is offered to all women from the age of 25 in England. With cervical cancer being the most common cancer in women aged 35 and under. Cervical screening it is an extremely important preventative test which is used to detect abnormal cervical cells. This saves the lives of thousands of women each year and prevents 75% of cervical cancers from ever developing. A positive smear test result which show cervical abnormality does not mean that you have cancer, it means that there are some changes to the cells which may go away on their own or they may require treatment to remove the cells before they develop in cervical cancer. This is why the cervical screening is so vital.

The specialist medical negligence solicitors at JMW have dealt with numerous cases where there was a delay in diagnosis of cervical cancer due to errors by NHS staff and have seen the absolutely devastating consequences on women’s lives. Medical professionals should ensure it is diagnosed quickly where there are signs but cervical screening can ensure treatment is provided before it even gets to that stage.

Previously factors such as fear of pain, embarrassment and generally putting it off have been put forward as reasons why women, in particular young women, may decline to attend their cervical screening appointment. The actress Michelle Keegan recently discussed on social media the reasons for ignoring letters to attend her cervical screening as she described how she had been putting it off ‘for quite a long time’ as she urged young women to attend their appointments.

As more and more women have failed to attend cervical screening appointments, there has been talk of an additional factor which may have become a further barrier to maintaining high cervical screening rates. The immunisation of schoolgirls against the human papilloma virus (HPV) from 2007 onwards was an extremely positive step in the battle against cervical cancer, with the vaccine proving effective at stopping girls getting the types of HPV which cause most types of cervical cancer. It has, however, been suggested that in recent years young women who have received the HPV vaccine have been lulled into a false sense of security about their risk of developing cervical cancer if they have received the HPV vaccine. They may incorrect believe that it is not possible for them to develop cervical cancer and therefore think it not necessary to attend a cervical screening appointment. This is not the case and the vaccine does not provide full protection.

It therefore remains extremely important for women to attend cervical screenings, whether or not they have been vaccinated. To tackle this problem, the NHS is planning a high-profile campaign which will launch early next year to urge women to attend cervical screening appointments and aims to ultimately prevent diagnoses of and deaths from cervical cancer. 

The clinical negligence department at JMW are experienced in handling cases of late diagnosis of cancer including cervical cancer. If you would like to talk to one of the members of the team about your own experience, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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