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The Cancer Strategy: Opportunities, challenges and why now is the time for action

Posted on: Tuesday, 5th July 2016 by Robert Music, Chief Executive

HPV virusLast July, the independent Cancer Taskforce published its strategy for achieving the very best cancer outcomes by 2020 in England. It set out measures to improve cancer prevention and to also ensure that anyone who is diagnosed with cancer can live as well and long as possible. It is an ambitious and hugely important document which has the potential to improve, and save countless lives and we believe can get us ever closer to eradicating cervical cancer. 

HPV primary testing

Improving the current cervical screening programme, which uses cytology, with Primary HPV testing was a key recommendation in the strategy with a target of full national coverage achieved by 2020. Evidence shows that this new test will see higher detection rates and a more reliable indicator to help identify women at greater risk of developing cervical cancer. We are delighted the Health Minister has just announced the implementation of the programme as research has shown that every year of delay may result in 487 extra cases of women being diagnosed. The next step must be ensuring that both the system and workforce are supported and equipped to deal with the changes that will follow. Ultimately the quicker this is rolled out, the sooner we will see fewer women diagnosed or losing their lives to cervical cancer.

Improving cervical screening uptake

We do have concerns over the speed that some of the other recommendations and actions from the strategy are being rolled out, particularly in relation to screening uptake, and the subsequent negative impact on health this may have. On average across the UK more than 1 in 4 women do not take up their screening invitation, yet we know that significant inequalities exist in regard to uptake and among certain age groups this can be as low as 1 in 3 and with women aged 60-64 uptake is at an 18 year low. For women from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic or lower-socio economic backgrounds and for those with a learning disability the statistics can be far lower. Released in Cervical Screening Awareness Week, our new long term modelling work has revealed a potential rocketing incidence if current screening coverage remains the same, with a 16% increase in incidence among 60-64 year olds and 85% increase among 70-74 year olds by 2040. A 100% increase in mortality among 60-64 year olds could also be a reality, increasing to 117% if screening uptake continues to decline and falls by another 5%. 

There has never been a greater need to act and increasing the numbers attending cervical screening must be a national priority. The Cancer Strategy sets out the intention to assess best practice in increasing uptake and it is crucial that this happens soon, with each group of women, especially those where uptake is below average, targeted individually and based on evidenced research. We believe HPV self sampling presents a huge opportunity to improve things especially among women over 50 who may have delayed attending screening, with our research showing that 54% of this age group that delayed said they would prefer to undertake an HPV self-sample at home.

We are excited by the prospect of a future free from cervical cancer and the Cancer Strategy plays a big part in getting us there. However now we need to see action, investment and improvements as delays will only result in further costs to the NHS and state, increased incidence, poorer outcomes and even possibly lives lost.

 

Find out more about our work to eliminate cervical cancer >

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