Public Health England has launched a new campaign urging women to take up cervical screening to dramatically cut their risk of developing cervical cancer. It has also completely dropped the outdated and inaccurate term ‘cervical smear’ from the Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign, which it launched this morning.
One in four eligible women in the UK (i.e. all those aged 25-64 years with a cervix) does not attend for cervical screening, which PHE said marks a 20-year low in attendance rates. It is concerned that this is putting women at risk of cervical cancer that could have been prevented. It pointed out that, currently, about 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and about 690 die from it – almost two a day – yet, it said, it’s estimated that 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented if everyone attended regular screening.
To increase the uptake of screening PHE’s campaign – run with the support of NHS England and charity partners, such as Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Eve Appeal and Lady Garden – is encouraging women in England to respond to their screening invitation letter and, if they missed their last screening, to book an appointment at their GP practice.
Its own research has revealed that despite the current low attendance figures, 90% of eligible women said they would be likely to take a test that could help to prevent cancer. It also showed that among those who had attended screening, 94% said they would encourage others who are worried to attend for screening; 87% said they were “glad they went”; and 84% that they were “put at ease by the nurse or doctor doing the test”.
As part of the new campaign, PHE gives practical information about how to make the test more comfortable. It also aims to reassure those women who might feel scared of finding out they have cancer, that screening is not a test for cancer.
Public health minister Steve Brine pointed out that improving cancer detection and diagnosis is a core part of the Long Term Plan for the NHS, and said he hoped that the new campaign would stop the “tragedy that women are needlessly dying of cancer when a simple test can identify any risks early on”.
Dr Dawn Harper, an NHS GP who appears on health-related TV programmes including Embarrassing Bodies, commented: “Some women are nervous or embarrassed about the test and put off having it done. While it’s not the most enjoyable experience most women say it wasn’t as bad as expected and were glad they did it.
“The tests are usually done at your GP surgery by female nurses who are trained to make women feel more comfortable and talk them through the process. I cannot stress how important it is not to ignore your screening letter – it’s a five-minute test that could be lifesaving.”