NHS in Midlands urges people to book their cervical screening

The NHS in the Midlands is calling on those who are eligible to book their cervical screening appointments, as around 30% of people aged 25-49 are not up to date and around 25% of those aged 50-64.

The call comes as cervical cancer charity, Jo’s Trust, launches its annual Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (23-29 January 2023) to raise awareness of cervical cancer and to drive uptake in the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.

Around 2,700 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and approximately 690 die from the disease – around two deaths every day.  The NHS Cervical Screening Programme helps save thousands of lives per year and those who are invited are being encouraged to ensure they attend their screening.

In the last year (2021/22) the NHS sent out more screening invitations than ever before – more than 5 million – and 3.5 million people came forward for testing.

Screening helps prevent cervical cancer by using a highly effective test to check for high-risk Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is found in over 99% of all cervical cancers and which may cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix. These cells can, over time, turn into cancer if left untreated.

Having HPV does not mean someone has or will develop cervical cancer. It is a common virus that most people have at some point in their life without knowing it, which usually goes away on its own. If cell changes are identified early cervical cancer can be prevented from developing.

The NHS also offers the HPV vaccination to all children aged 12 and 13 at school in Year 8, up until school leaving age, with numerous catch-up opportunities provided by the School Aged Vaccination Teams. GP practices also offer vaccination for those who may have missed it in school, from age 14 up until 25.

HPV vaccination protects against the most common types of HPV, but it is still important to attend a cervical screening appointment when invited because the HPV vaccine does not protect against all strains of HPV.

Cervical screening is available by appointment at local GP practices and at some local sexual health services.

Trish Thompson, Director of Primary Care and Public Health Commissioning at NHS England in the Midlands, said:

“If you have received an invitation for cervical screening, or missed your last screening, please don’t wait to make an appointment. I know life is busy, but screening really does save lives – please put your health at the top of your to-do list and book that appointment with your GP practice or sexual health clinic today. It might just save your life.

“Some people may feel worried or embarrassed about the screening itself, but your clinician at your GP practice or sexual health service will help you feel at ease and treat you with dignity when carrying out this important check.

“Through cervical screening and treating cell changes, as well as the HPV vaccination, we hope to prevent cervical cancer from ever developing and ultimately eradicate it altogether in the future.”

Julie, who is 51 and from Derbyshire, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in April 2020 after her routine smear test: “I had been suffering with multiple infections and had been having backache and pelvic pain, but put this down to being run-down. The pain continued for another three months, and my GP referred me for tests at the hospital.   

“In the meantime, I received a letter to attend my three-yearly smear test, which I booked for the following week. The next day I started to bleed quite heavily with an unusual discharge. I remember apologising to the nurse doing the smear test, who was very understanding. I put the bleeding down to the menopause. This continued until I got a phone call from the hospital asking me to attend for a colposcopy the following day, 1 April. Whilst performing the colposcopy, the nurse called in the Gynaecology Consultant to examine me. It was at that moment I started to worry. The consultant’s words still ring in my ears: ‘You have cancer, you have a tumour of about 4-5cm’.  

“I thought this was an April Fools’ joke. How could I have cancer? I don’t smoke; will I die? Will I have to have a hysterectomy? I had so many questions and no answers. I was taken into a room by a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) called Kay. She was so patient with me, and we discussed so many things. I left with booklets, leaflets, and lots of soggy tissues.  

“My treatment started mid-May 2020, with my first chemoradiation session, which is chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy on the same day. My greatest fear was (and still is) needles. I thought ‘if I can get through the IV cannula being put in, I can cope with anything’.  

“After many treatments, four days on the ward and three more radiotherapy sessions, I got to ring the bell on 2 July to signify the end of my treatment. This was very emotional for me. I fumbled around for words to say as tears rolled down my face. The radiographers and nursing staff all gathered round and clapped (as did some of the patients in the waiting room).   

“In January 2021 I was told treatment had been a complete success and I was cancer free. This was a very long time to wait and was difficult to cope with at times. Less than two months after treatment, I had returned to work, which was based from home. In some respects, the waiting was the difficult bit as when you are having treatment you just get on with it. All I could think about was had the treatment worked? Will I be ok?   

“I am still in remission now. I do have radiotherapy damage which may or may not get better, but overall, I am well and loving life. I still keep in touch with a lady I met on the radiotherapy suite, and we check in with each other on a weekly basis.  

“Cancer has changed me. I appreciate every day and treasure the simple things in life and take one day at a time. I try not to worry about silly things that are beyond my control. I am more relaxed and not as stressed as I used to be.   

“My advice to others is to listen to your own body – you know it best. If something doesn’t seem right, contact your GP straight away. And always book your cervical screening appointments that are offered to you, it might just save your life – like it did mine.”