The image and name of the late Hong Kong pop star Anita Mui Yim-fong is being splashed over Guangzhou newspapers and magazines. The pop icon's death has touched many local fans here in more ways than one. Besides mourning the passing of another popular entertainment star, Mui's death last month has also sparked increased awareness about cervical cancer. The disease, ranked by the World Health Organisation as the sixth deadliest cancer, with 470,000 cases worldwide last year, is largely ignored in China, and many people in Guangzhou are unaware of its causes. While the number of cases in China has decreased significantly during the past 50 years, it is still a disease that requires frequent checks for those women who are at risk. According to a report by Yang Dong Zi, a gynaecology professor at the Second Affiliated Hospital of Zhongshan University, cervical cancer in the 1940s was diagnosed in 32.6 out of 100,000 women. In the 1980s, the rate dropped to 8.3 per 100,000 women. 'In China, cervical cancer ranks first among gynaecological tumour growths,' said Dr Yang. 'Most of these cases appear in women who engage in sex at an early age, those women who have multiple sex partners or women with a history of sexually transmitted diseases.' China's sexual revolution has not helped the fight against cervical cancer. According to Dr Yang, an increasing number of young women are contracting cervical cancer, possibly due to sexual contact at an early age. 'The youngest case I have seen was 25-years-old. Confirmed cases most often occur in women over 35.' According to Faith Barash, an obstetrics and gynaecology doctor at Guangzhou's Can Am Clinic, most cervical cancer cases are linked to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). 'HPV is the virus that causes cervical cancer. It is a sexually transmitted virus of which there are many strains, but not all of them cause cervical cancer.' Chen Jiang, a 30-year-old woman who has had two benign growths removed from her uterus, said: 'I never knew it was related to a sexual disease. I've only had one sexual partner so I don't know why I'm at risk.' She is set to receive a pap test next month, in which cells from the cervix are examined for abnormalities. Early and frequent testing has helped reduce the number of cervical cancer cases in recent years. 'Pap tests are used to detect precancerous changes in the cervix at a time when the disease might be curable,' said Dr Barash, who advises all women to undergo annual pap smears within three years of becoming sexually active. Pap smear tests involve collecting a sample of cells which are taken from the cervix. They are placed on a microscope slide which is examined by a pathologist. 'If the test shows any abnormal cells, a colposcopy may be done,' said Dr Barash. A colposcopy is a visual examination of the cervix which determines if the growth is benign or cancerous. 'Cervical cancer is a preventable disease,' said Dr Barash. 'And even if a woman is unfortunate enough to get it, it is still curable if caught early.'