Don’t be complacent – reduce your risk of cervical cancer is the advice of health chiefs as screening rates across the country fall to a 20 year low.
Every day 9 women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3 women will lose their lives to the disease. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 but is largely preventable thanks to cervical screening and the HPV vaccination programme.
But, statistics show that the number of women aged 25-29 years of age being screened for cervical cancer is the lowest in any age group and numbers attending for screening are falling year on year.
This year the first girls who were vaccinated against HPV are also eligible for screening as they reach their 25th birthday.
Surveys undertaken by cancer charities indicate embarrassment and a lack of understanding of the causes of cervical cancer may be behind the fall in numbers attending*.
The number of women dying from cervical cancer has halved over the past 28 years as a result of the NHS screening programme as well as improvement in treatment.
Despite this success over 5,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Some of these women may have delayed coming forward for screening for a variety of reasons but treatment of early changes detected by screening can prevent women from developing cancer.
Dr Max Kammerling, Consultant in Public Health Medicine and Head of the Public Health Screening and Immunisation Team for Surrey and Sussex, said: “It is really important for young women to understand the importance of attending cervical screening as it can detect pre-cancer abnormalities, which, if left untreated, may develop into cancer. Screening is for people without symptoms as a preventative measure.
“The screening test is relatively simple, takes about 5 minutes and is performed by the practice nurse at your GP surgery. 95 per cent of results will be normal and of those that are not, the vast majority can be treated very easily and will never develop in to cancer.”
NHS England and Public Health England are supporting Cervical Cancer Prevention Week which runs from January 22-28. The week aims to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening and its role in preventing cancer, as well as encouraging women to go for their screening test when invited. NHS England’s Screening and Immunisation teams also work with GP practices to increase awareness.
Dr Kammerling added: “We have noticed a fall in attendance of younger women over the past few years, and are concerned that this trend may increase due to misunderstanding of the level of protection that the HPV vaccination offers. Although they are protected against the two most common HPV types that cause 70% of cervical cancers, the risk is not completely eliminated and screening is still an important part of preventing cancer.”
Robert Music, Chief Executive Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Cervical cancer is largely preventable with cervical screening (smear tests) providing the best protection against the disease. Screening prevents up to 75% of cervical cancers yet the number of women attending is at a 20 year low in England with over 1 in 4 women in East Sussex missing their test in the last year.
“There are many reasons women don’t attend ranging from simply putting it off to worrying it will be embarrassing or painful to not knowing what the test is and why it’s important. During Cervical Cancer Prevention Week we want to encourage women to talk to their friends, mothers and daughters about the steps they can take to reduce their risk of cervical cancer.”
NHS England has signed up to the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust ‘Time to Test’ pledge demonstrating commitment to raising awareness of cervical cancer prevention in the workplace and ensuring female employees can access cervical screening. The pledge states:
Women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer by:
- Practicing safe sex. Condoms can help reduce the risk of being infected with HPV
- Not smoking – The risk of developing cervical cancer if you are a non- smoker, on average, is half that of a woman who is smoker
- Attending cervical screening when invited: this can help to find cervical abnormalities and HPV infections before they are able to develop into cervical cancer.
- Vaccination: getting the HPV vaccination if you are eligible (for girls at school in Year 8) will protect you from the high-risk HPV types 16 and 18 that cause 70% off all cervical cancers.