Cervical cancer screening attendance hits 19 year low

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Cervical screening tests are a vital method of preventing cancer through the detection and treatment of abnormalities in the cervix, but new research shows that the number of women using this service has dropped to a 19 year low.

Charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has found that the number of women attending potentially life-saving cervical screening tests in England is falling.

The research, obtained by a series of Freedom of Information requests sent to every local authority in England, found that over 1.12 million women did not attend a cervical screening test in the last year.

Around nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each day in the UK. Cervical screening tests are not mandatory but are offered by the NHS to women aged between 25 and 64 in England. People aged between 25 and 49 are invited to attend cervical screenings every three years, which increases to every five years for women aged between 50 and 64.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said the charity is particularly concerned about women aged between 25 and 29, as one in three of people in this age group have been found not to take up their invitation for a smear test and cervical cancer is most common in women under the age of 35.

This age group showed the lowest number of women attending their free screening. The charity also found that more than half of women had either delayed or not attended their appointment for a cervical screening test, with nearly one in four delaying the process for over a year, and nearly one in 10 not attending at all.

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A third of women in this age group had simply put it off, while 27 per cent worried the test would be embarrassing, and 25 per cent thought it would be painful. Of the women who admitted to putting the test off or not attending an appointment, more than half said they would like to able to attend a GP clinic of their choice, such as somewhere close to work, for the screening. Others cited the wish to attend a walk in appointment at a sexual health clinic or the chance to self-test at home.

The research also highlighted a lack of effort from authorities in a number of areas in trying to increase the attendance of women for the tests. A total of 66 local authorities and 123 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) across the country were found to have undertaken no activity over the past two years, while the provision of cervical screening through sexual health services has been significantly reduced in some areas.

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