Leading article: Cancer screening: a new chance

Related Topics

The very public suffering of Jade Goody, who left hospital this week to spend the time that is left to her with her children, has turned the spotlight as never before on arrangements for cancer screening. Ms Goody, it is reported, had taken a cervical smear test several years ago, but failed to respond when recalled for further testing. The rest is the ultimate cautionary tale for our times.

One response has been a sharp increase in the number of young women asking for a test. Some GP surgeries registered a rise of more than 20 per cent. Cancer Research UK reported a seven-fold increase in people consulting its cervical cancer web page in the days after Ms Goody's received news of her diagnosis.

But it is not only young women who have taken notice. The Government has just announced a review of the age at which women in England will be offered screening. An expert review panel is to recommend later this year whether the minimum age for routine smear tests should be reduced from 25 to 20. Tests used to be provided for all women aged between 20 and 49. That changed in 2003, when the age for regular screening in England was raised to 25, while remaining at 20 elsewhere in the UK.

There may have been an element of cost-cutting in the decision. But the clinical reasons should not be dismissed. Earlier testing was said to have detected relatively few cancers, while turning up a large number of false positives that reflected very small irregularities. Not only were women needlessly alarmed, but some were subjected to invasive and risky treatment that in the end proved unnecessary. Something similar can be said of screening for breast cancer, where the correlation between early detection and reduced mortality rates is more complex than it might seem.

One reason for reverting to earlier testing for cervical cancer is that women are becoming sexually active earlier than in the past, and this can be a factor in susceptibility. Another reason is that more than one-third of cervical cancer cases diagnosed in the UK every year are terminal. Another reason would be to take advantage of the Jade Goody effect in encouraging take-up.

Last year only two-thirds of women aged between 25 and 29 attended for their smear test; in some parts of the country the proportion was much lower. This year, the figures should be higher. For the positive trend to continue, however, the NHS needs to do two things.

Some women stay away because they fear a physically unpleasant experience administered by unsympathetic staff. That needs to change. A more common reason, however, is the sheer inconvenience of a screening system organised according to health authority boundaries, which requires attendance at a particular time and place within standard working hours.

Women need much more flexibility than this. Drop-in centres, mobile labs and workplace clinics would all help. Jade Goody has already done more for cervical cancer screening than any government campaign could ever do. The NHS must not squander its opportunity.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

Art & Design Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Year 5/6 Teacher - Wrexham

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Year 5/6 Teachers needed in WrexhamWe ...

Science Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits