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Posted by: The Probe 14th January 2021
There are approximately 3,200 new cervical cancer cases every year in the UK, with incidence rates for the disease the highest in females aged 30 to 34. When diagnosed at its earliest stage, more than 9 in 10 people with cervical cancer will survive their disease for a year or more, compared with 1 in 2 people when the disease is diagnosed at its latest stage. These figures underscore the importance of prevention and early detection, especially as 99.8% of cervical cancer cases are avoidable. If a diagnosis of cervical cancer is made, dental teams play a vital role in the overall care of affected patients, given that this disease and its associated therapies can negatively impact oral health.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix – the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It develops when the DNA of healthy cells in the cervix mutate. Healthy cells grow, multiply and die within a set time, but abnormal cells grow, multiply out of control and do not die. If left untreated, these accumulating abnormal cells then form a mass, otherwise known as a tumour. Cancer cells can eventually invade nearby tissues and break off from the tumour to spread elsewhere in the body. Most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which develop in the thin, flat cells lining the outer part of the cervix that projects into the vagina., 
There are various risk factors for the disease, but the human papilloma virus (HPV) is thought to be a major cause of cervical cancer. HPV refers to a very common group of viruses that are transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact, typically during sexual activity. There are more than 100 types of HPV, many of which do not cause any problems for most people and are cleared by the immune system within two years. However, certain strains of HPV – including HPV 16 and HPV 18 – can cause abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, increasing their risk of becoming cancerous. Those who contract a persistent infection with a high-risk HPV strain are more likely to develop cervical cancer. HPV 16 and HPV 18 are responsible for around 70% of cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions.
Prevention and detection
Cervical cancer is more common in younger women, with more than half of cases diagnosed each year in women under the age of 45 in the UK. Although there is no single means to completely prevent cervical cancer, there are steps people can take to reduce their risk, such as practising safer sex and giving up smoking.4 Receiving a vaccination to protect against HPV infection can also help in preventing cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine has been routinely offered by the NHS to girls aged 12 and 13, with two doses given over a 6-month period. Girls who are over the age of 15 when vaccinated require three doses.
As cervical cancer often has no symptoms to begin with, detection of the disease at its earliest stage is vital to successfully treat it. That is why individuals should attend regular cervical screenings, previously known as smear tests. Women aged 25 to 49 are offered a screening every 3 years through the NHS, while those aged 50 to 64 are offered them every 5 years. With the COVID-19 pandemic putting cancer services on hold for much of last year, there is concern that some patients could have potentially gone undiagnosed for the disease and their treatment delayed. Now that screening programmes have restarted, it is more important than ever that people are encouraged to screen for cancer of the cervix.
Patient management through collaboration
If a patient is diagnosed with cervical cancer, effective collaboration between health and dental professionals is essential in order to provide the best quality of care. The dental team will be invaluable in terms of helping cervical cancer patients maintain their oral health at a time when they will be under considerable stress from the effects of both the disease itself and the treatments used to combat it. Particularly in more advanced cases, patients may be undergoing a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat the disease, which can increase their susceptibility to oral infections and other complications such as mucositis and xerostomia. For additional support in the management of cancer patients, you can always refer to a trusted partner like Ten Dental+Facial, whose team of multi award-winning clinicians are highly experienced in treating patients with complex oral health needs.
With Cervical Cancer Prevention Week taking place in January 2021, now is the ideal opportunity for the profession to help raise awareness of the disease and educate the wider community on the importance of attending regular cervical screenings. It is also crucial that dental teams encourage patients to seek medical advice if they suspect they may have cervical cancer, with access to appropriate resources and information provided. Any steps dental professionals can take to support cervical cancer patients can make all the difference to helping many more people beat the disease.
For more information visit www.tendental.com or call on 020 33932623
DR MARTIN WANENDEYA. BDS (U Brist) DipImpDent RCS (Eng) (Adv. Cert) (GDC: 70626) Implant Surgeon
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