Study shows only 1 in 4 women with learning disabilities attend cervical screening in the South West

NHS England South West is supporting Cervical Cancer Prevention Week this week and encouraging women with learning disabilities, in particular, to attend cervical screening appointments.

Data collected by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust* shows that women with learning disabilities are 45 per cent less likely to be screened for cancer compared to their counterparts without learning disabilities.

The proportion taking up the offer of cervical screening may be even lower in the South West. A study in Exeter has found that only one in four of women with learning disabilities attend their cervical screening appointment when invited.

Liz Mearns, NHS England Medical Director South West said:
“Cervical cancer is still one of the most serious illnesses affecting women. The NHS encourages all women to attend their screening appointments, but we are particularly keen to encourage women with learning disabilities to have this vital health check.

“We know that many women, and particularly those with learning disabilities, are embarrassed or afraid to have the check done, but Jo’s Trust has a leaflet and a short film** specifically for women with learning disabilities that can help explain what’s involved why it is so important.”

While women might find talking about a smear test embarrassing, cervical screening is the most effective method of checking for and preventing the spread of the disease. For women with learning disabilities, screening also helps to ensure their health is monitored by their guardians.

Every day nine women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer and two 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. 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.

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, 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.