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Cervical cancer is on the increase yet almost 1.3 million women aren’t attending potentially life-saving cervical screening warns national charity

Sun, 24/01/2016 - 00:01
  • UK has one of the worst survival rates of cervical cancer and diagnoses have risen by 6%
  • Among 25-29 year olds 1 in 3 do not attend
  • #SmearForSmear campaign aims to encourage more women to go for their smear tests

Of the UK women eligible for cervical screening, almost 1.3 million* are putting themselves at risk of life-threatening cervical cancer having not attended cervical screening in the last five years. Worryingly this number is growing year on year. Through their #SmearForSmear campaign Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust hopes to help reverse this trend and is also calling for greater investment in targeted awareness campaigns for women of every age.

1 in 4 women in the UK are not attending their cervical screening (smear test) when invited, yet research supported by the charity has shown a huge 27% reduction in deaths could be achieved in just 5 years if screening coverage could reach 85%, and in just one year diagnoses alone would drop by 14%[1].

Diagnoses of cervical cancer have also risen and are currently the highest since 1999 in England (bar 2009 when Jade Goody's battle with the disease resulted in significantly increased screening uptake) with Office for National Statistics data** showing a concerning 6% rise in cases between 2013 (2,639 diagnoses) and 2012 (2,482)[2]. Just as concerning, the UK has one of the lowest survival rates for the disease out of the OECD countries (21st out of 23[3]).

First launched in 2015 the charity's cervical screening awareness campaign #SmearForSmear (www.jostrust.org.uk/smearforsmear) targeted 25-29 year old women gaining widespread support from celebrities, politicians and the public, and the latest screening data shows that since the campaign ran increased attendance is visible among this age group in England. The charity is re-launching the campaign at the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (24 – 30 January) to combat the 1 in 3 in this age group who still do not attend their cervical screenings and to highlight the declining attendance as age increases. In England alone screening uptake in 2014-15 was 81.6% of 50-54 year olds falling to 74.8% of 55-59 year olds and 73.2% of 60-64 year olds[4]. 10 years ago coverage was at 81.3% for 55-59 year olds and 78% for 60-64 year olds – highlighting a worrying downward trend.

Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "Cervical cancer is a preventable disease and we cannot afford for incidences to keep rising. So it is a matter of urgency that we see positive actions to turn around the downward trend in cervical screening uptake and we are urging policy makers and health professionals to increase investment in targeted approaches to tackle barriers to screening for women of every age, ethnicity, location and circumstance."

The charity is calling on public health leads, commissioners and government to make cervical cancer prevention a local and national priority, as outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View[5], and join it in raising awareness of the simple steps women can take to protect their own health.

Robert continues: "The 2015 campaign resonated with women at the start of the screening programme and in its first year also drove more women than ever to use our support services and online information. However cervical cancer affects women of all ages and we are as determined and focused on reversing the declining screening attendance that exists among women at the end of the screening programme. We believe the campaign's success is its simplicity. By encouraging women to attend cervical screening it has the potential to save countless lives and ultimately contribute to eradicating this largely preventative and hugely devastating disease."

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said: "Cervical cancer can be prevented.  The UK is a world-leader in cervical screening and also has one of the highest global rates of vaccination against the human papilloma virus, helping to protect women from developing cervical cancer.

"But we know that many women, particularly younger women, are not accepting their invitation to be screened. I encourage all eligible women to make that important choice and have their smear test when invited."

Dr Anne Mackie, Public Health England's Director of Screening, said: “We are pleased to offer our continued support to Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. Cervical screening can help detect abnormalities, which if left untreated, could develop into cervical cancer at a later stage.

Screening is an informed choice and it is the duty of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme to provide women with clear information that enables them to decide whether cervical screening is right for them."


For further information, comment or case studies please contact:

Kate Sanger or Elisabeth Schuetz at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust on 020 7250 8311 / 07772 290 064 or email [email protected] / [email protected]

Notes to editors

*Eligible population refers to all women who have been eligible for screening in the last 5 years. Coverage is defined as the percentage of women in a population who were eligible for screening at any given time. England uses ‘age-appropriate coverage’ which is the percentage of women in the population eligible for cervical screening who were screened adequately within the previous 3.5 years or 5.5 years, according to age (3.5 years for women aged 25-49 and 5.5 years for women aged 50-64) on 31 March 2015. (See page 55 of the HSCIC Cervical Screening Programmes for further information). Coverage for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is based ‘5 year coverage'.

**Cancer registrations in England can take up to 5 years after the end of a given calendar year to reach 100% completeness, due to the continuing accrual of late registrations. Cancer registrations are believed to be 98% complete for 2013 based on the figures published for 3 previous years data (2010 to 2012).

About Cervical Cancer

  • The majority (99.7%) of cervical cancers are caused by persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection which causes changes to the cervical cells.
  • HPV is an extremely common virus; around four out of five people are exposed to the virus. Anyone who is sexually active can be infected with HPV at some time. The body’s immune system will usually clear it up.
  • 300,000 UK women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities each year.
  • 8 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3 women lose their lives every day.

About cervical screening and HPV vaccination

  • 5 million UK women are invited to cervical screening each year.
  • In England, Northern Ireland and Wales women aged 25-49 are invited every three years, whilst women aged 50-64 are invited every five years. In Scotland women aged 20-60 are invited every three years however the age of eligibility will be changing in 2016 when women will be invited from 25 – 64.
  • The UK’s national HPV immunisation programme vaccinates girls aged 12-17 for free. Girls aged 12-13 (year 8) will be routinely offered the vaccine in schools.
  • The HPV vaccine provides protection against two high risk types of HPV (types 16 and 18) that cause 70% of all cervical cancers
  • Women who have received the HPV vaccine will still have to attend cervical screening

About Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust (www.jostrust.org.uk) is the UK’s only dedicated charity offering support and information to women of all ages and their loved ones affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. The National Helpline is on 0808 802 8000.