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Older Scottish women are putting their lives at unnecessary risk by ignoring their cervical screening invitation

Mon, 10/06/2013 - 01:00

The UK’s only dedicated cervical cancer charity is today urging older women in Scotland to make sure they attend regular cervical screening up to final invitation, after the latest figures(1)  for those aged 55-59 show a steady decline in uptake over the past ten years falling from 82.5% to 74.7%. The latest figures(2)  also show the number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer in this age group has risen by 41% over a ten year period.

Following these worrying trends Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is concerned Scotland could see an increase in those diagnosed with cervical cancer later in life and is using Cervical Screening Awareness Week (June 9-15) to warn older women they may be putting their lives at unnecessary risk.

Concerns are further compounded following reports(3)  pointing to a rise in women having new relationships later in life. This means a woman increases her 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 cancer is a largely preventable disease thanks to the cervical screening programme, so we are extremely worried about this trend in Scotland where women are ignoring their last invitation as this could potentially lead to an increase in incidence of the disease.

“Women who are in new relationships later in life may increase their exposure to 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.

“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 help prevent cervical cancer, screening also plays a vital role in catching the disease as early as possible, improving survival rates.”

Health Secretary Alex Neill, said: “Cervical screening saves around 5000 lives in the UK every year and prevents 8 out of 10 cervical cancers from developing.

“I would urge all eligible women in Scotland to find out about cervical screening so that they can be as informed as possible about the benefits of screening every three years.”

Research* by the charity has shown that almost a third of UK 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 amplified by NHS data(4)  that shows 55% of women in England 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.

“On a more general level, screening across all age groups is going down and this is a trend we need to reverse. Glasgow reports the lowest uptake in the country with over 30% of eligible women missing the test. Because of this we ran adverts on the side of Glasgow buses in 2012 reminding women to take up their invitation. This lead to a 90% increase in web visits from the city to our information pages showing a clear desire to find out more.”

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is now running a UK-wide awareness campaign to encourage women of all ages to take up their cervical screening invitation. Across Scotland adverts will appear in washrooms in shopping centers, motorway service stations, bars, pubs and clubs during Cervical Screening Awareness Week. The charity is also sending information packs to 6,000 GP surgeries across the UK which includes information, posters and leaflets on cervical screening.

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

A survey carried out 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 UK 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

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 Scotland:
• In Scotland women aged 20-60 are invited to attend screening every 3 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 Scotland from 2015.
• In 2011/12 73% of eligible women took up their cervical screening invitation. This compares with 81.7% in 2001/2
• Glasgow has the lowest take up at 69.5% whilst Shetland has the highest at 80.1%
• In 2011/12 68.1% aged 25-29 and 73.6% of 30-35 year olds did not take up their screening invitation

(1) Scottish Cervical Screening Programme Statistics 2011-2012. Publication date 28th August 2012
(2) There were 24 women aged 55-59 diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2010, compared with 14 diagnosed in 2000
(3)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
(4)  NHSCSP Audit of Invasive Cervical Cancer in England, 2007-2011