Norwich woman's cervical cancer battle

Sarah HallA Norwich woman has said she is now ready to 'conquer the world' after surviving cervical cancer which was only detected by a routine screening test.Sarah Hall

A Norwich woman has said she is now ready to 'conquer the world' after surviving cervical cancer which was only detected by a routine screening test.

Kirstie Banks, 29, thought she was in prime health when she went for a three-yearly smear test at her doctor's surgery last March, but was immediately referred for another scan because of abnormalities.

She was shocked to be told she had cervical cancer and she had to have an immediate hysterectomy, where the womb is completely removed.

It was even harder for her and her 37-year-old husband Kevin to deal with because it was at the time when reality TV star Jade Goody was suffering the same disease - and she later went on to die from it.

But today Mrs Banks, from Churchill Road, said she feels lucky to be alive and said what happened to her highlighted the need for regular cancer screening tests.

She said: 'I was really shocked to be told I had cervical cancer. I am not one of these people who thinks 'it will never happen to me' but I felt fit and well and as far as I knew it was just a routine test.

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'Thankfully I found out early enough that the cancer had not spread to other parts of my body and it was contained enough to be removed through the hysterectomy. The time from when I was diagnosed to when we got rid of it was just five weeks and I didn't need to have any chemotherapy or anything which was such a relief.'

Mrs Banks has mixed feelings about the cervical screening tests in this country. All women between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible for a free cervical screening test every three to five years. Some are called back more regularly if one of their tests showed any abnormalities.

But in Mrs Banks case, the last test she had three years ago gave her the 'all clear'. When doctors diagnosed cervical cancer they thought it had been prevalent for about a year.

'I feel so incredibly lucky,' she said. 'If I hadn't had the test I might not be alive today and of course I am very grateful for that. I think everyone who is eligible should have the test. But I also think it highlights that we should have tests more regularly. If the cancer had developed earlier it would have spread by the time I had my test because three years is quite a long time.'

In other countries, such as Australia, women are called for cervical smears every two years and in places like the United States screening starts from the age of 20 or in other countries when a woman becomes sexually active, where as in the UK the first call for tests is when a woman is 25.

Mrs Banks has now returned to her job as a hairdresser and said she now has the confidence to get through anything.

'It sounds so clich�d but if I can get through cancer I can do anything,' she said. 'I look back at photographs from six months before I found out and can't stop thinking I had cancer then but I didn't know. That's a scary thought really. But now I am ready to conquer the world!'

Mr Banks was so impressed and inspired with his wife's recovery he is cycling from London to Paris next week to raise money for Cancer Research UK where he cycles an average of 80 miles over four days.

He said: 'When we first found out we went numb. It didn't help at the time it was all in the papers about Jade Goody and we all know what happened there - you just fear for the worst. I'm trying to give something back. We received a lot of support from Cancer Research and the more the charity can help others the better.'

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NHS Norfolk bosses are encouraging women to take up an invitation for screening.

Only 70pc of the younger cohort of women, aged 25-49, who are invited for a free NHS cervical screening test take up the offer.

Fiona Kelly, screening programmes lead at NHS Norfolk, said: 'We know that screening can save a huge number of lives and we urge all women who are invited to accept an NHS cervical screen to accept attend.

'Do not ignore the invitation when you receive it. The aim of cervical screening is to detect abnormalities in women who feel completely well and who have no symptoms. It can save your life.

'Much research has gone into planning the service and a three-year recall for women aged between 25 and 49 is deemed most appropriate and effective or five years for women aged between 49 and 64 years. Women whose results have identified abnormalities which need careful monitoring are recalled every year. More frequent screens can do more harm than good.'

For further information on all types of cancer screening including factsheets and frequently asked questions on cervical, breast, prostate and bowel cancer visit the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes website at