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Women over 50 facing increased threat of cervical cancer and potential loss of life due to lack of understanding about prevention

Mon, 13/06/2016 - 08:15

1 in 3 (32%) women over 50 do not think cervical screening (smear tests) are part of the healthy upkeep of a woman's body and almost 1 in 4 (22%) do not think they are important to have regularly according to new research by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust and Gransnet[1]. Adding to concern, a worrying 1 in 3 (33%) have delayed or not attended this potentially life-saving test with an average delay of 26 months and 1 in 10 (10%) delaying for over 5 years.

During Cervical Screening Awareness Week (13-19 June) Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK's only dedicated charity for women affected by cervical cancer and abnormalities, wants to highlight the worrying lack of understanding of cervical cancer and cervical screening among women over 50. Cervical screening provides the best protection against cervical cancer, a disease that can be prevented and the charity wants to see eradicated.

The latest statistics[2] show incidences of cervical cancer in the UK have risen from 8 diagnoses every day to 9 each day meaning 3,207 women a year now face a diagnosis. Adding to concern, new modelling work commissioned by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust has uncovered a ticking time bomb: incidences of cervical cancer are set to rocket if current uptake of cervical screening remains the same. By 2040 incidences will have increased by 16% among 60-64 year olds and 85% among 70-74 year olds. A 100% increase in mortality among 60-64 year olds is also a very real threat rising to a massive 117% if screening uptake continues to decline and falls by another 5%[3].

Further findings from the survey of over 1,000 women aged over 50 found:

  • Almost half (46%) do not agree or do not know the Human papillomavirus (HPV) (the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer) is common
  • 1 in 5 (21%) do not agree or do not know that regular cervical screening reduces the risk of cervical cancer
  • Of those who have delayed screening, 32% find it embarrassing, 25% find it hard to book an appointment at a convenient time, 20% have had a previous bad experience and 19% find it painful since being older (16% since the menopause in particular)

When asked what would encourage attendance:

  • 21% said more flexible GP opening hours
  • 38% said being sent an appointment time with their cervical screening invitation
  • 31% wanted more information relevant to their age
  • 23% said more information about the risks of not attending
  • Almost 1 in 4 (23%) who had delayed attending said the opportunity to HPV self test[i]

Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust: "Cervical cancer is a preventable disease so it is extremely worrying that diagnoses have risen. Women aged 50 to 64 are of particular concern as they are more likely to receive an advanced stage diagnosis, with 49% of diagnoses stage two or later, which means more invasive treatment, poorer health outcomes and increased risk of loss of life. Not attending cervical screening is the biggest risk factor to developing cervical cancer, yet attendance declines with age and among women aged 60-64 uptake is now at an 18 year low at just 72.4%. Relevance, accessibility and flexibility are significant barriers to cervical screening among this group and coupled with our modelling work, which shows terrifying long term increases in incidence and mortality among this age group, it has never been more crucial that we act.

"For women who are post-menopause, screening can be particularly uncomfortable, and our research shows discomfort (57%), mild (26%) or even severe pain (10%) are common screening experiences. Further research into HPV self-sampling tests is urgently needed as it could help overcome some of these barriers for this age group. The 2015 Cancer Strategy for England highlights the need to increase screening attendance and I am afraid that if we do not tackle this with a sense of urgency we are only exacerbating the ticking time bomb of increased incidence."

Jane Ellison, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health said: "Cervical screening currently saves 4,500 lives a year, but it could save more if everyone took the opportunity to be screened. Even as we get older, it is important that we spot any abnormalities early so we have a better chance of preventing cervical cancer.

"Cervical Screening Awareness Week will be vital in raising awareness - screening is our best protection against cervical cancer. I encourage all women, whatever their age, to make the important decision to attend cervical screening when invited."

Lara Crisp, Editor, Gransnet said: "We are an aging population and it is essential that women over 50 feel able to make informed decisions about their own health. It is extremely concerning to see the rising risk of cervical cancer in this age group and the lack of knowledge that exists about screening which is potentially putting lives at risk. We hope this research encourages more conversations and increased awareness about the role of cervical screening in preventing cancer. We also join Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust in urging policy makers to make cervical screening as accessible as possible for this age group."

Ends

 

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]

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
  • Over 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 300,000 with cervical abnormalities each year in the UK
  • Every day 9 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3 women lose their lives
  • Women aged 25-49 are invited for cervical screening every 3 years and from 50-64 every 5 years

About HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

  • Anyone who has ever been sexually active is at risk of contracting HPV
  • Around 13 high-risk types of HPV are responsible for causing cervical cancers, types 16 and 18 are the most prevalent, causing over 70 per cent of cervical cancers
  • Four out of five (80 per cent) women are infected with genital HPV at some point in their lives without ever knowing they have been infected because HPV is usually cleared (without treatment) by the body's immune system, with 80 per cent of cells healing within two years
  • A small percentage of women do not clear the infection and it can remain 'dormant' (inactive) or persistent, sometimes for many years. If your immune system doesn't clear the infection and/or the abnormal cells are not removed or monitored, the DNA of the HPV virus can join with the DNA of the epithelial cells, creating cancer cells. This is why cervical screening and HPV vaccination are important in helping to spot abnormalities and prevent cancer
  • Research has shown that changes in abnormalities do not usually escalate quickly and it can take between 5 to 20 years for a cancer to develop.

[1] 1,046 women aged 50 and over were surveyed on www.gransnet.com from 18 April- 11 May 2016

[3] Based on research commissioned by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and carried out by the Centre for Cancer Prevention at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine


[i] HPV self-sampling kits test for the presence of high risk HPV types that could cause cervical cancer. While not currently offered as part of the NHS screening programme, they are designed for women to use themselves in the privacy of their own home, or if they wish, at a medical centre