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Cervical Cancer Prevention Week: woman with no cancer symptoms has life saved thanks to routine screening

A woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer has said her “story could be very different” if she had not attended a routine screening.

Gina Yates, 40, from Devon, attended a cervical screening in late September last year when an abnormality was detected and she was referred for a colposcopy at her local hospital.

Shortly after, on 4 October 2021, she underwent a LLETZ procedure, during which the top centimetre of her cervix was removed and sent for biopsy, with Gina being diagnosed with cervical cancer six days later.

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‘Cancer is a journey no one wants to be on’

Gina, a social worker in adult services. said she had been enjoying life, symptom-free when she was diagnosed with cancer.

She said: “Obviously, this came as a shock but I calmly accepted the news. I felt level headed and pragmatic.

“I’ve always considered that life is a journey, a rich tapestry full of tests, tough times and beautiful moments. Cancer is a journey no one wants to be on, but I made a choice to deal with it as best I could.”

Gina said she never missed a smear as she “knew how important” they are, but cervical cancer was not something she had ever considered in any depth.

Although she had heard of the HPV virus, she said she knew nothing about it, but has since learned a lot after being diagnosed.

Gina’s response to her diagnosis was to research treatments and clinical trials, which she said helped her to mentally prepare but “was also quite scary”.

“I wanted to read as much information as I could. It was difficult to concentrate or focus on anything else,” Gina added.

Gina underwent an MRI on 23 October, which showed her cancer was at stage 1B1. Stage 1B means the cancer is slightly bigger and may be seen without a microscope, with Stage 1B1 meaning the cancer is 5mm or more deep into the cervix and is less than 2cm wide.

Her doctors then advised her treatment plan - a radical hysterectomy - which was performed on 6 December at the Royal Marsden hospital, including the removal of both ovaries, with sentinel node detection.

Sentinel node detection is something Gina requested after conducting research and meeting with a surgeon locally.

The procedure removes several sentinel nodes instead of all the lymph nodes in a given area, which reduces the risk of developing lifelong lymphoedema.

Gina was diagnosed with cervical cancer in October 2021 (Photo: Gina Yates)

‘My story could be very different’

Gina said she would like to highlight the importance “of both cervical screening and of knowing one’s own body”.

She added: “I had no symptoms and had I not attended cervical screening my story could be very different.”

Gina has urged others to remain alert to symptoms of cervical cancer, which include bleeding between periods or after menopause, bleeding after sex, blood-stained discharge and pelvic pain.

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, which takes place from 17 to 23 January also raises awareness of cervical screening, as one in three women and people with a cervix do not attend cervical screening, according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

Gina, who was discharged from hospital one week after her surgery, recently received her final results, which showed that all her cancer has now been removed, with at least a 90% chance that the surgery has cured her of cancer.

She said she’s “very lucky” as her boyfriend, Rob, and her parents have looked after her and their support “has really helped in the recovery process”.

She also thanked her surgical team at the Royal Marsden, who were “brilliant and have given me the best outcome I could have hoped for”.

Gina, who said she’s “so relieved” she doesn’t need any further treatment, will be closely monitored for the next five years “before the official all clear”, and added that she’s “now able to get on with my life”.