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Only a third of women in their 60s take up all cancer screenings, study finds

Most women undergo breast cancer screening but only around half are undergoing bowel cancer screening

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Only 35% of women in their 60s take part in all offered screening programmes, the results of a study* published in the Journal of Medical Screening shows.

In England, women are invited for screening for three types of cancer in their sixties - for the last cervical screen before they exit the programme, for breast screening every three years, and for bowel screening every two years.


Researchers from King's College London and Queen Mary University of London investigated uptake of these screening programmes by looking at a sample of just over 3060 women aged 60 to 65 to see whether they took up their last screening invitations for these three programmes.

They found that 35% took part in all three screening programmes, 37% participated in two programmes and 17% accessed one type of screening. One in 10 did not take up any screening invitations at all.

General practices with a higher proportion of unemployed patients and a higher number of smokers had a lower rate of take-up of all three screening programmes. Conversely, take-up was higher among practices in areas of less deprivation, with a higher proportion of women with caring duties, those with long-term health conditions, and those with a high level of patient satisfaction with the practice itself.

"To lower the chances of dying from certain cancers, it is important for the population to attend all offered screening programmes," said lead author Dr Matejka Rebolj from King's College London.

"We know from the official statistics that the majority of women are up to date with breast screening, but this drops to just over 50% when it comes to bowel screening. It is worrying that only a third of women are up to date with all offered cancer screenings and that 10% remained completely unscreened in the last round. Indeed, similar patterns have been reported from other countries too.

"It is crucial for us to look at the take-up rates in certain areas and in certain practices and address women's preferences for future screening programmes. We need to understand and target specifically those women who obtain some screening, but decide not to take up all the life-saving screening that is offered to them by the NHS. It is important that policy makers now look at these findings to inform what can be done in the future to reduce the significant number of deaths in the over 60-year-olds."


*Rebolj M, Dharmishta P, Maroni R, et al. Concurrent participation in screening for cervical, breast, and bowel cancer in England. Journal of Medical Screening. First Published September 16, 2019; DOI:10.1177/0969141319871977

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