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Women over 50 turning their backs on life-saving test, new figures reveal

Mon, 23/01/2012 - 00:00

New figures out today reveal women over 50 are rejecting a life-saving test because they believe it is unnecessary and irrelevant.

At the start of national Cervical Cancer Prevention Week the results of a YouGov survey for leading charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust show nearly one in three of the women questioned failed to realise that cervical screening was a necessary health test for all women.

In the poll for women over 50 to 70, 31% did not consider the test necessary for all women with that figure more than doubling (67%) amongst those who had never attended screening.

Single, separated and divorced women were more likely to have never been for screening compared to women who were married or in a relationship and single women were more likely to feel that the invitation they received inviting them to a screening “did not seem relevant”.***

The findings of the poll have led Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to call for urgent action as latest cervical screening coverage numbers show a worrying downward trend across the UK in this age group – falling below 80% for the first time in England in ten years in 2010 and dropping again in 2011. An NHS report** found 56% of women aged 50-64 with fully invasive cancer hadn’t been screened within seven years, compared to only 16% of women without cervical cancer.

Robert Music, Director of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s only dedicated charity offering support and information for those affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities, said: “Divorce rates amongst this group of women are rising dramatically* as rates fall for all other ages and our survey showed women in the single, separated and divorced groups who were most likely to say the screening invitation seemed irrelevant. “

“Over two thirds (68%) were unaware that the main cause of Cervical Cancer is HPV (the Human Papilloma Virus). Over half of women (51%) in this age group told us they thought cervical cancer was caused by having multiple sexual partners and almost one in five thought it was hereditary (18%). We clearly need to remind women that they can have one sexual partner and still be at risk from HPV. “

“Cervical cancer is preventable and screening plays a vital part in that, saving around 5,000 lives every year in the UK but less than half of women in the survey (49%) thought their screening invite made it clear why the test is important. This, together with the absence of targeted information, seemed to be playing a pivotal role in whether women attended screening - 37% told us they would be more likely to book a screening appointment if they were given age-relevant information. “

“These results around screening are worrying enough but when you also see that only 11% of the women we surveyed knew all the symptoms of Cervical Cancer, the potential impact of a lack of education around cervical cancer on the health of women in this age group becomes even greater. “

“There is also clearly a significant problem in this age group with feelings about the procedure itself. Of the women surveyed who said they’d had a bad experience of screening in the past leading them to delay or even failing to book screening , one in three said this was because they had been disappointed with their experience and, or treatment from the person carrying out the test in the past ****.“

“These figures highlight why we are now seeing drop-offs in screening uptake in the over 50s. It is of real concern that misinformation and myth prevail while the accurate information is just not connecting. “

“There is a desperate need for us to find ways to improve women’s understanding of the causes of Cervical Cancer and the action they can take to help reduce their risk. This could, quite simply, save their lives.”

For more information contact Elizabeth Udall, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust on 07515 852690 or [email protected]

Notes for Editors

• Cervical Cancer Prevention Week 22-28 January 2012
• Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust (www.jostrust.org.uk) National Helpline 0808 802 8000
• Around three women in the UK die each day from cervical cancer, with someone being diagnosed every three hours facing an uncertain future. Over 300,000 women a year are told they may have a cervical abnormality that could require treatment.
• It is estimated that the NHS Cervical Screening Programme saves 5,000 lives every year. Cervical cancer is predominantly caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which can be caught as soon as you start having intimate relationships
• NHS Cervical Screening Programme 2009-10 figures showed screening coverage for women over 50 drop below 80% for the first time in 10 years and in 2010-11 they dropped again - from 78.9% to 78%.
• *Latest ONS figures show that more than 13,700 over 60s were granted a divorce in 2009, up 4% in two years – this contrasts with an 11% fall in all other age groups
• ** The NHSCSP Audit of invasive cervical cancer national report 2007-10
• *** YouGov found that single, separated and divorced women were significantly more likely (four times) to have never been for screening (4%) compared to women who were married or in a relationship (1%) and single women were more likely to feel that the invitation they received inviting them to a screening “did not seem relevant” (6%)
• **** Around one in 14 of the women surveyed said they had a bad experience in the past which had led to them delaying or not attending a cervical screening appointment. Of these 30% said they gave this answer because they had been disappointed with their experience and, or treatment from the person carrying out the test in the past
• In Scotland, in the past ten years, Cervical Screening coverage has dropped from 91.1% in the 50-54 age group and 87.6% in women aged 55-59 (2001-2) to 84.4% and 82.1% respectively (2010-11) In Wales coverage has dropped as follows:
• 2001-2 Women aged 50-54 85.4%; 55-59 81.9%; 60-64 76.3%
• 2010-11 Women aged 50-54 80.4%; 55-59 78.3%; 60-64 75.2%
• The survey was funded with a grant from Roche Diagnostics
• All figures in the release, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2397 women aged 50-70. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16 and 21 December 2011.