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London, 10 November 2015: Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is calling for urgent investment in the prevention and early diagnosis of cervical cancer as the latest figures for uptake of cervical screening (smear test) in England display an ongoing decline. Today's annual report shows that screening attendance is now at 73.5% across all eligible age groups (25-64) down from 74.2%* the previous year meaning that almost 1.2 million women are putting themselves at risk of developing cervical cancer.
The statistics follow an OECD (Organisation for Economic and Co-operation and Development) report which revealed that the UK now has one of the worst healthcare systems in the developed world highlighting cervical cancer survival rates registering near the bottom of the list at 21 out of 23 countries.
Research by the charity shows that if uptake of screening were to increase to just 85% – a figure only 2.5% higher than that achieved in 1998 – there would be a 14% drop in numbers diagnosed with cervical cancer in just one year.
Whilst the report shows a slight increase in screening attendance in women aged 25-29 from 63.3% to 63.5%, across all other age groups uptake has dropped. Particularly concerning is the trend of failing to attend screening as women get older. In 2014-15 80.8% of 50-54 year olds, 74.6% of 55-59 year olds and 72.4% of 60-64 year olds took up their invitation.
Robert Music, Chief Executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "This report shows that there's a need for an urgent review about how we reach and target the many different groups in our society that aren't attending screening. Currently what we're doing clearly isn't working.
"Cervical cancer incidence has increased by almost 6% from 2012 to 2013 and this increase could continue if more women avoid screening each year. It is estimated the cervical screening programme saves 5,000 UK lives annually; it can lead to both prevention and early diagnosis with better outcomes. It's paramount that women attend as soon as invited but they are only going to if they understand the test's importance and relevance."
"Also concerning is the falling turn around times for processing screenings which are significantly lower than the Key Performance Indicator set by the NHS** with almost one in 10 not receiving results within the two week acceptable time frame. A long wait for results simply adds to a patient's anxiety around the test which may already be acting as a barrier to attendance.
"With the potential introduction of HPV primary screening next year, I would like to know how the programme’s current failing infrastructure will cope with an increased demand on its services, particularly if uptake were to increase.
"We're often supporting women who have delayed attendance of cervical screening and are diagnosed with cervical cancer at a later stage. This could mean more invasive treatment with life-limiting side effects and overall poorer outcomes.
"It's paramount that all four UK governments invest in very targeted cervical cancer prevention campaigns at a local level as well as look to overhaul the programme to address these urgent issues."
Dr Anne Mackie, Director of screening, Public Health England said: "PHE welcomes the publication of these figures. It is of concern that a smaller proportion of women are being screened. While more than three quarters of women are being screened, this is still fewer than in 2013-14. This is particularly evident in younger women, with 63.5% of women under 30 being screened every three years. We are working hard to address this with academics and local services to investigate and use new ways of improving screening uptake among younger women.
"Cervical screening remains an important preventative measure against cervical cancer. Screening is a choice; women should be informed to make their own choice about whether or not to attend screening."
For further information, comment or case studies please contact the media team on 020 7250 8311 / 07772 290 064 or email [email protected]
Notes to editors
* See page 55 of the HSCIC Cervical Screening Programmes for definitions on coverage.
For the total target age group (25 to 64 years), two definitions of coverage are presented in the report.
The primary measure is 'Age-appropriate coverage', which represents the most up to date definition. It is derived from Open Exeter and used in the Public Health Outcomes Framework (PHOF)36. This takes into account the frequency with which women of different ages are invited for screening and defines coverage as 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.
**National policy is that all women should receive their cervical screening test result within 2 weeks of the sample being taken. In 2014-15, 91.0 per cent of letters sent to women tested were reported to have an expected delivery date of within 2 weeks of the sample being taken. This compares to 93.7 per cent in 2013-14 and is below the Key Performance Indicator current acceptable value of 98.0 per cent.
 Office for National Statistics (ONS), England, 2013