Don’t let embarrassment prevent you having your cervical screening

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 (also known as the Smear Test) and the HPV vaccination programme.

But, statistics show that women aged 25-29 are the least likely to attend for screening of any age group and numbers are falling year on year. 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. When diagnosed at its earliest stage, around 95% of women with cervical cancer will survive their disease for five years or more, compared with 5 in 100 of women when diagnosed at the latest stage**.

Nigel Acheson, NHS England South Region Medical Director and lead for Cancer said: “There has been a fall in attendance of women across all age groups over the past few years but this decline is most marked amongst younger women. Making time to take up your screening appointment is the single most important active step you can take to avoid developing cancer,”

NHS England and Public Health England are supporting Cervical Cancer Awareness Week which runs from June 12-18.  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.

Mr Acheson, who is a consultant gynaecological oncologist (a specialised field of medicine that focuses on cancers of the female reproductive system) added: “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% 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’s Screening and Immunisation teams work with GP practices to increase awareness and are supporting Cervical Cancer Awareness Week. 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:

The health of our employees comes first and if employees cannot make appointments out of working hours, we will find a way to make sure they can attend cervical screening, even if it means doing so during their working day.