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UK women urged to attend cervical screening tests

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Ilona Lo Iacono
WVoN co-editor 

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s only dedicated cervical cancer charity, has launched an awareness campaign to mark national Cervical Screening Awareness Week (10-16 June).

The Trust is urging more women to attend cervical screening tests, as statistics show a downward trend in uptake of screening invitations, with a 10-year low in 2012.

With the exception of a dramatic rise in 2009, following Big Brother star Jade Goody’s battle with cervical cancer, screening uptake figures have declined year on year since 2002. Overall uptake among eligible UK women now stands at 78.6%.

While some women surveyed said that they simply don’t feel the screening is necessary, others said they had trouble arranging appointments to fit around their work schedules.

Robert Music, director of the Trust, added: “Another major contributing factor to women not attending is embarrassment and fear of the procedure.

“We want to reverse this trend by reassuring those who are nervous about the test that it’s a simple five minute procedure that could save their life.”

Cervical screening detects early changes in the cervix, which can be treated before they progress into cancer.

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme, which is offered to all UK women aged 25-64, is estimated to save 4,500 lives a year.

Some women will have already developed cervical cancer by the time they receive their first screening invitation.

Hazel Nunn, head of evidence and health information at Cancer Research UK, says that screening is not offered to women under 25 as, for biological reasons, it is less effective at correctly identifying cervical cancer in young women.

She said: “Whatever your age, if you have any bleeding between periods, during sex or after the menopause, you should go to your GP.”

The results of a Swedish study, published in March this year, showed that those who were diagnosed with the cancer via screening had a 92% chance of complete recovery, compared with only 66% of those diagnosed after going to the doctor with symptoms.

A 2011 University of Manchester study, funded by Cancer Research UK, found that the incidence of cervical cancer in women in their 20s rose by more than 40% in England between 1992 and 2006, despite the overall incidence of cervical cancer dropping by 30%.

The rising incidence is thought to be due to young women having sex earlier in life, and with more partners.

Smoking, which can damage cells in the cervix, making them less able to fight off infections, is another risk factor. One in four UK women in their 20s smokes.

Dr Robert Alston, study author, said: “Crucially our findings demonstrate the importance of the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination programme and for as many women over 25 as possible to go for cervical screening.”

Younger women – especially now that the so-called Jade Goody Effect has worn off – are the least likely age group to take up their cervical screening invitations, despite the fact that this is the most common form of cancer among women under 35 years of age.

But, despite a perception that it is a cancer of young women, six out of 10 cervical cancers are diagnosed in the over 40 age group.

Music said earlier this year that too few women over 50 are going for smear tests, especially those who are not in a relationship.

“Divorce rates amongst this group of women are rising dramatically as rates fall for all other ages and our survey showed women in the single, separated and divorced groups were most likely to say the screening invitation seemed irrelevant,” he said.

“Over half of women in this age group – 51 per cent – told us they thought cervical cancer was caused by having multiple sexual partners and almost one in five – 18 per cent – thought it was hereditary.

“We clearly need to remind women that they can have one sexual partner and still be at risk from HPV,” he said.

Further information, including posters and factsheets, are available to download from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust here.

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