Letter: Women must demand more frequent cancer tests

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Sir: On 28 April I attended the Women's Nationwide Cancer Control Campaign spring lunch, and was astonished to learn that British women are given smear tests for cancer only once every three to five years on average. That night the news broke that 20,000 smear tests may have been misread.

In the US, women are told to have a smear test at least once a year. Granted, the costs of health care are not borne by the government in the US to the extent that they are here. Even so, a woman lacking adequate financial means can receive this service at a low cost or even free from a women's medical clinic such as Planned Parenthood. And in no event would a clinic or any doctor tell a patient that a test was only necessary every three to five years. Even when the tests are properly read, they may miss early signs of cancer; a clean smear test is no guarantee of being free from the insidious disease. US doctors inform their patients of this fact, and cite it as a reason to be tested at least annually.

Thus, the striking difference between US and UK health care in this area centres less on who pays for services - the government or the individual - and more on the amount and accuracy of the information provided to women by their doctors. Even if the Government will provide women with a free smear test only every five years, they must be told to obtain a smear test every year, and be provided with the service at a low cost if they cannot afford it. Early detection of cancer would save a tremendous amount of money, though this is trivial compared to the saving of lives.

Women whose tests may have been misread (29 April) should not wait. Most are long overdue for another test and should demand it immediately.

Yours sincerely,


London, NW3

29 April