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Charity warns both young and older Welsh women could be putting their lives at risk by ignoring cervical screening invite

Mon, 10/06/2013 - 01:00

The UK’s only dedicated cervical cancer charity is today urging women in Wales to have regular cervical screening tests after the most recent figures(1)  for cervical screening uptake in Wales show both women in the 25-29 and 60-64 age groups have the fewest numbers taking up this life saving test.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer for women under 35 in the UK yet for women aged 25-29 in Wales, 35.8% miss or delay their test. For those aged 60-64 who are due their final screening invitation, 1 in 4 fail to get screened. With these worrying figures, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is concerned the trend could lead to an increase in women diagnosed and so is using Cervical Screening Awareness Week (June 9-15) to warn women they may be putting their lives at unnecessary risk.

Concerns for older women follow reports(2)  pointing to a rise in the over 50’s having new relationships later in life. This in turn may increase the risk of being exposed to the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the cause for over 99.7% of cervical cancers.

Robert Music, Director of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, says: “Cervical screening in Wales has risen slightly in recent years but it’s still worrying to see thousands of women are still not having regular cervical screening tests. Cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease thanks to the cervical screening programme and it is vital all those who are eligible attend when they receive an invitation. We are particularly worried about the low statistics for young and older women as this could potentially lead to an increase in women diagnosed with the disease both early on and in later life.

“Recent reports point to an increase in women having new partners’ over 50 and this will increase their risk of contracting HPV. However, even if this is not the case, typically cervical cancer is a slow growing cancer which usually takes 10 to 15 years to develop, so women who have not been sexually active for some time may still be at risk.

“Screening plays a vital role as early stage cervical cancer, in the majority of cases, is symptomless. In the best case scenario cervical screening is designed to detect abnormal cells before they turn cancerous saving a woman from going through invasive treatment with devastating consequences. Whilst it can prevent cervical cancer developing screening also plays a vital role in catching the disease as early as possible, improving survival rates.”

Research* by the charity has shown that almost a third of women aged between 50 and 70 believe the test to be unnecessary and irrelevant to them, whilst single, separated or divorced women are more likely to have never been for a screening compared to those who are in a relationship. Furthermore 69% were unsure that HPV was the main cause of cervical cancer.

Robert continues, “The charity’s research has given us cause for concern which has been compounded by NHS data(3)  which shows that 55% of women aged 50-64 with fully invasive cancer had not been screened for at least seven years prior to their diagnosis, compared to only 17% of the general population.

“Where older women feel it is irrelevant for them to attend, in contrast studies** show very different reasons that younger women do not attend. These include embarrassment, fear of the procedure after finding a previous test painful as well as finding it difficult to book a screening appointment due to a busy working schedule.”

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is continuing to target women in Wales to raise awareness of the issue. Adverts will appear in washrooms in shopping centers, motorway service stations, bars, pubs and clubs during Cervical Screening Awareness Week in Wales and the UK. The charity is also sending information packs to 6,000 GP surgeries across the UK which includes information, posters and leaflets on cervical screening. During CSAW 2012, the charity ran an advertising campaign on the side of Cardiff buses as the capital reports the lowest uptake in the country (73.7%).

The charity is also using Cervical Screening Awareness Week to call for the introduction of HPV testing as Wales is the only UK country where the test is yet to be implemented. The test is designed to identify high risk strains of the human papillomavirus – the cause of 99.7% of cervical cancers – with the aim to reduce unnecessary screening and treatment and ensure those at a higher risk are treated as quickly as possible.

“Wales is behind the rest of the UK on the issue of HPV testing and we would like to see it introduced”, Robert continues. “Identifying those at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer will help ensure treatment happens more quickly, whilst for those where the high risk strains of HPV are not present, this will help reduce unnecessary anxiety and stress that being told you have pre-cancerous cells can cause.”

For further information contact Maddy Durrant, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust on 020 7936 7498 / 07772 290 064 or email [email protected]

Research by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found:

*Of 50-70 year old women surveyed (1):
• 31% didn’t consider screening necessary for all women with that figure more than doubling (67%) amongst those who had never attended screening.
• Single women aged 50 to 70 were most likely to say the screening invitation seemed irrelevant (5%).
• Only 33% said the information they received was informative and less than half (49%) thought their screening invite made it clear why the test is important
• 37% said they would be more likely to book a screening appointment if they were given age-relevant information

(1) From YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2397 women aged 50 – 70. Fieldwork undertaken between 16 and 21 December 2011 The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK females aged 50 to 70

**Of those aged 25-34 surveyed:
• 43% said they had missed or delayed a screening
• 43% found the procedure embarrassing
• 26% said they found the procedure painful
• 22% missed an appointment and failed to reschedule one
• 27% said it was hard to book a cervical screening appointment at a convenient time

*From YouGov Plc. Total sample size 2718 women of which 2467 were of screening age. Women aged 20+ in Scotland and Wales and 25+ in England and Northern Ireland. Fieldwork undertaken between 7th and 10th January 2011. The survey was carried out online.

Notes to editor:
• Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust – (www.jostrust.org.uk). For the charity's national helpline call 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.
• Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK under 35
• It is estimated that the UK Cervical Screening Programmes save 5,000 lives every year and if HPV vaccination take up continues to reach at least 80% it is believed this could result in a 2/3rds reduction in incidence in women under 30 by 2025.
• Cervical cancer is predominantly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which can be caught as soon as you start having intimate relationships.
• HPV is a very common virus. Up to 80% of individuals will be infected with a genital HPV at some time during their lives.
• You are still at risk of contracting HPV even if you do not have penetrative sex as the virus is transmitted through genital skin-to-skin contact.

About cervical screening in Wales:
• In Wales women aged 20-49 are invited to attend screening every 3 years, whilst those 50-64 are invited every 5 years
• In 2012 the UK National Screening Committee recommended a uniform screening age of 25 to 64 across all UK countries. These changes are due to be implemented in Wales from 1st September 2013 and Scotland from 2015.

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(1) Statistical Report, Cervical Screening Programme Wales, 2011-12
(2) The FPA’s ‘Middle Age Spread’ campaign in 2010 highlighted an increase in new relationships for women over 50 http://www.fpa.org.uk/campaignsandadvocacy/sexualhealthweek/stisandsafersexover50
(3) NHSCSP Audit of Invasive Cervical Cancer, 2007-2011, published May 2012