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14 October 2010, 00:00
A mum of two, whose life was rocked by cervical cancer, is urging parents of girls in Medway to make sure they are protected against the disease.
The call from Zoe French comes as girls aged 12 and 13 in Medway schools are being offered HPV jabs.
The vaccinations provide 99 per cent immunity against the two types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which cause more than 75 per cent of cases of cervical cancer.
Yet last year, almost a quarter of girls in Medway missed out on immunisation against cervical cancer, in many cases because they failed to return consent forms signed by their parents to the school nurses.
“I wish I’d had the chance of being vaccinated – HPV jabs didn’t exist when I was at school,” said Zoe, a nursery nurse from the Isle of Sheppey.
“I would urge the mums and dads of these girls to make sure their daughters return the forms and have the vaccinations so they are protected against this horrible disease.
“A few minutes out of their day now could save their lives in the future.”
Zoe was treated at Medway Maritime Hospital last year after abnormal cervical cell changes were identified during a routine smear test.
The 30-year-old said she was “absolutely terrified” when a hospital consultant broke the news she had the first stages of the killer disease.
She said: “All I could think about were my children and what was going to happen next.”
An appointment was made for Mrs French at the Richard Watts unit at Medway Maritime Hospital and, despite the unit’s specialist cancer nurses offer of support and advice, the mum admits she was “frightened to find out too much about the disease.”
A few weeks later an appointment had been made for the cancer to be removed.
She said: “I was very scared, until the operation we couldn’t be certain how far it had spread.
“My husband stayed strong for me and we decided not to tell the children why I was going into hospital; they are too young to understand.”
Following the operation and a night’s stay at the hospital Zoe was told her cancer had been removed and that it had not spread any further than the cervix.
“When they confirmed the first stages had been removed and it hadn’t spread this huge wave of relief just fell over me.”
She has now been given the all clear.
Zoe adds: “I was one of the lucky ones. My cancer was identified and treated quickly.
“I would tell any young woman who has been offered the vaccination to take it. I wouldn’t want anyone to endure what my family and I went through with this.
“But they shouldn’t forget the vaccine doesn’t replace cervical screening; it was the routine smear test which helped save my life“, she added.
Since September 2008, 7,572 girls in Medway have received the HPV vaccination, which consists of three injections spread during at least six months. It is important that girls have all three for maximum immunity. This autumn, 1706 girls will be targeted in Medway.
Amanda Shears, head of the Medway NHS Foundation Trust school nurses, who run the HPV vaccination sessions for Year 8 girls in Medway and Swale, said: “Sometimes girls are scared it is going to hurt, but it is very rare for anyone to experience more than mild discomfort. That seems worth putting up with it when you bear in mind that these vaccinations can save their lives. School nurses will be happy to discuss any concerns with girls.”
Dr Maggie Bruce, Consultant in Public Health Medicine for NHS Medway, said the vaccine is a major breakthrough in the drive to protect young women against the disease.
She said: “I would urge all young women invited to have the HPV vaccination to accept.
“The HPV jab is a major breakthrough in beating cervical cancer and is expected to save hundreds of lives every year across the country. It prevents a higher number of women developing the disease with all the associated anxiety and suffering. It is also important that all women continue to respond to invitations for cervical screening tests as the vaccine does not prevent all cervical cancers.”
Cancer of the cervix usually takes 10 to 20 years to develop. In the UK, more than 1,000 women die from cervical cancer each year.
The HPV vaccine does not protect against all forms of the virus and does not replace cervical screening, which picks up abnormalities in about 200,000 women a year, and around 2,800 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer.Regular cervical screening is the best way to identify abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.
Following the introduction of the national HPV vaccination programme, the NHS cervical screening programme will continue to play an important part in checking women who are aged 25 to 65 for early-stage cell changes.
For more information, visit www.nhs.uk/Conditions/HPV-vaccination
Parents are welcome to call the Medway school nurses team on 01634 846892.