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Cervical cancer among young women on the rise

Premalignant cervical conditions among women under 40 have increased as more of them avoid smear tests.

Gunekologisia tutkimuksia.
Image: AOP

Precancerous conditions of the cervix detected in women under 40 have increased slightly, raising concerns among the health care professionals that too many young women and those at risk skip screenings.

Gynaecologist Marjo Tuppurainen says she is particularly worried about women who smoke and who have multiple sex partners. They tend to avoid screenings most often.

“Maybe the lower rate of cervical cancer has created an illusion that the disease has been eradicated,” Tuppurainen says.

Even though the number of new cases detected in the past 15 years has fallen, cervical cancer has increased among women under 40, according to the Finnish Medical Society Duodecim.

Screening for cervical cancer starts at 30 years, but some municipalities begin testing at 25 years. Nationally, between 61 and 79 percent of women participate in the screenings, with participation from Pohjois-Savo ranking lowest.

Tuppurainen, who is based in the area, says some women skip the smear tests at the public health care provider and visit private clinics instead. She says that some of her patients complain about the difficulty of making an appointment.

"The phone number where the screening can be scheduled is open for just one hour each day."

Screenings proven to be effective

Tytti Sarkeala from the Finnish Cancer Registry says public health officials should pay attention to the way women are invited to the screenings.

“A personal invitation should include the place and time of the test. It also is important that the screening can easily be rescheduled,” she says.

According to her, studies show that these simple and easy practices have increased participation by more than 10 percent.

Sarkeala says that the incidence of cervical cancer in Finland, which is among the lowest in the world, is a result of the screenings that began in the early 1960s. The mortality rate of cervical cancer has fallen by 80 percent since that time.

“Now we have detected a slight rise in precancerous conditions among women under the age of 40, and perhaps in cancers too. However, this increase [in cancers] cannot be verified by statistics yet.”

Cervical cancer can be prevented by a human papillomavirus vaccine, which has been part of Finland’s national immunisation programme since 2013. The vaccination is available to 11-12-year-old girls.

About 160 cases of cervical cancer are detected in Finland every year.

“Screenings are a very cost-effective way to reduce cervical cancer and related deaths,” Sarkeala says.

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