Thousands of women missing potentially life-saving cervical screening test

  • 21 January 2019

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The latest NHS figures show thousands of local women are missing the potentially life-saving cervical screening test, known as the ‘smear test’.  

More than 66,000 women have failed to attend the smear test in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, putting them at increased risk of developing cervical cancer.  

The number of women dying from cervical cancer has halved over the past 30 years as a result of the NHS screening programme and improvement in treatments. However, the number of women taking up the test has fallen in recent years and health professionals are urging women to book the test ahead of Cervical Cancer Awareness Week.

Dr Alison Wint, MacMillan GP and specialised care lead at Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said:

We know some women find attending cervical screening tests embarrassing, however, it is a simple procedure and it really does save lives. We would encourage all women who receive an invitation to book their test as soon as possible. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. However, we need women to attend their test so that we can identify abnormal cells before they become cancer. Early detection is the best form of defence against cervical cancer and we would ask anyone with female friends and relatives who have not attended their test, to speak with them and encourage them to book an appointment with their GP. It’s also important to let your GP practice have your most up to date address so they can send you your test invitation in the post.

Dr Beth Winn, GP Registrar at Green Valleys Health and Health Education England Quality Improvement Fellow, said:

We are currently trying to increase the uptake of the smear test in Bristol as it is at a 19-year low. We particularly want to help women from ethnic minority groups access the test, as we know they are less likely to come for the smear. We are targeting key barriers and beliefs keeping women from booking their smear, including thinking you only need to go if you have symptoms, which is not the case. We also want to reassure women that the smear test will be performed by an expert health professional, who in nearly all cases is a female doctor/nurse and you can check to confirm this with reception when you book you appointment. The HPV virus, which causes cervical cancer, is not associated with having lots of sexual partners and is often picked up even if you have only ever have sex with one person. It is also very important you attend even if you have had the cervical cancer vaccination as this only protects against 70% of cervical cancer.

Robert Music, Chief Executive at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said:

Over one in four women don’t attend cervical screening yet it provides the best protection against cervical cancer. Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is a fantastic opportunity to ensure more women understand the role of the test and feel able to take up their invitation. With national attendance at a 21-year low, we simply can’t afford for it to decline any further or we will sadly see diagnoses and even deaths which could have been prevented.

854 woman in the UK died from cervical cancer in 2016. Approximately 99.8% of cervical cancer cases in the UK are preventable.

Women aged 25 to 49 are offered the test every three years, and then every five years until the age of 64.

You can visit the Jo’s Trust website to find out more about cervical cancer and the smear test.

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