First national cervical screening campaign to be shown on TV as testing uptake hits 20-year low

Figures show that just over 71 per cent of eligible women had been screened at regular enough intervals last year

Katie O'Malley
Tuesday 05 March 2019 09:15
Public Health England launches Governments first national cervical screening campaign

The government has launched its first national cervical screening campaign in a bid to tackle the sharp decline in women undergoing testing.

The campaign, called “Cervical Screening Saves Lives” and run by Public Health England (PHE), comes as the uptake of screening has hit a 20-year low with almost one in three women eligible for testing failing to do so, according to latest figures.

Recent statistics showed that just over 71 per cent of women aged 25 to 64 underwent screening last year – the lowest since 1997 and a drop from 75.7 per cent in 2011.

In England, approximately two women every day die from cervical cancer and around 2,600 women every year are diagnosed with the disease. It is estimated that if everyone attended screening regularly, 83 per cent of cervical cancer cases could be prevented.

The campaign adverts will run on television, radio and online for eight weeks from 5 March until 28 April.

PHE hopes the campaign will increase the number of women attending their cervical screening across England, encouraging them to respond to their invitation letter and book an appointment at their GP practice if they missed their last screening.

Professor Anne Mackie, Director of Screening Programmes at PHE, said: “The decline in numbers getting screened for cervical cancer is a major concern as it means millions of women are missing out on a potentially life-saving test.

“We want to see a future generation free of cervical cancer but we will only achieve our vision if women take up their screening invitations. This is a simple test which takes just five minutes and could save your life. It’s just not worth ignoring."

Cervical screening, formerly known as the smear test, is not a test for cancer, rather is used to detect abnormal cells of the cervix that could have the potential to become cancerous if left untreated.

The majority of women’s results show that everything is normal, but for around 1 in 20, the test picks up some abnormalities.

It is also extremely rare for cervical cancer to be diagnosed from cervical screening, with only about one in 2,000 (less than 1 per cent) people with an abnormal cervical screening result being found to have cervical cancer, according to charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust.

New research from PHE shows that nearly all women eligible for screening (90 per cent) would be likely to take a test that could help prevent cancer and approximately nine in 10 (94 per cent) would encourage others who are concerned to attend their cervical screening.

(Public Health England

The research also found that once women have been screened, eight in 10 women (87 per cent) said they were glad they attended their appointment and were put at ease by the nurse or doctor administering the test (84 per cent).

Steve Brine, Public Health Minister, said: “It is a tragedy that women are needlessly dying of cancer when a simple test can identify any risks early on. We hope this new campaign – the first of its kind in this country – will save lives and I am delighted to see it launch today.”

Brine added that from next month, any patient with suspect cancer should receive a diagnosis or the all-clear within 28 days.

The campaign is back by Loose Women presenter Christine Lampard who said she will encourage her daughter, Patsy, to go for screening when she is eligible to do so.

“As a mother I will never ignore my screening invitation and when my daughter, Patsy, is old enough, I‘ll encourage her to attend her screenings too.

“As women we should talk positively about our bodies and the importance of cervical screening – it’s an important way to protect our health.”

The campaign is also supported by several charities including Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, Eve Appeal and Lady Garden.

PHE’s campaign comes days after new research found that one in five British women wrongly believe that a cervical screen test can detect whether or not they have ovarian cancer.

For further information about cervical screening, visit the NHS website here.

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