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More women at risk of cervical cancer as cervical screening attendance falls across every age group and almost every local authority in England

Tue, 15/11/2016 - 10:12

Screening coverage has dropped to 72.7% and is now at a 19 year low

1.12 million women did not take up their screening invitation in the last year

Released today, the latest figures show cervical screening coverage in England is at just 72.7%[1], meaning over one in four women may be at risk of a potentially life-threatening cervical cancer diagnosis. This is the lowest it has been for 19 years[2].

Of the 4.2 million women aged 25-64 invited for cervical screening during 2015-16, 1.12 million did not attend.

Coverage has fallen a worrying 0.8% in the last year (73.5% at 31 March 2015) and is now 3% lower than 2011 when it was at 75.7%. Cervical screening prevents against 75% of cervical cancers and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is concerned that if this decline in attendance continues then increased diagnoses and mortality are a very real threat.

The data also shows:

  • Among local authorities, the largest decline was in London where coverage is now only 66.7%, a decline of 1.7% from 2015
  • In the last year the age group with the largest fall was 40-44 year olds where coverage fell 1.4% from 75.1% to 73.7%
  • 1 in 3 (63.3%) of 25-29 year olds are not attending
  • Among 60-64 year olds a 1.3% decline has seen coverage drop from 72.4% to just 71.1%
  • Among 25-49 year olds who are invited for screening every three years, coverage is now at 70.2% falling 3.5% since 2011 (73.7%)
  • The largest decline since 2011 is among 45-49 year olds where coverage has fallen 4.7%


Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust:

“The new data makes bleak reading. As we see screening coverage go down year on year, we are also seeing the numbers diagnosed with cervical cancer rise. If we do not start to immediately reverse declining coverage then tragically we will see more diagnoses and lives lost from what is a largely preventable disease. Among women aged 25-29 coverage is significantly lower than any other age group at just 63.3% meaning over one in three young women are not attending a five minute test that could literally save their life. 9.9% of women eligible for cervical screening, aged 25-64, have never attended and this is a big concern.

It is essential that government, commissioners and public health leads invest in ensuring that every woman understands the role of screening in preventing cervical cancer and the potential health implications of not attending. The Cancer Strategy for England acknowledges the health inequalities that exist as a result of low screening uptake, particularly among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups and communities of lower socio-economic status and we need to see these gaps closed. Targeted awareness and education campaigns at both a national and local level must be a priority alongside making screening more accessible. We are calling for urgent action to explore initiatives including self-testing, increasing provision of screening in sexual health clinics and allowing women to attend screening at GP surgeries other than the one they are registered with.”

Research by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has found by 2040 incidences of cervical cancer will increase 16% among 60-64 year olds and 85% among 70-74 year olds and mortality 100% among 60-64 year olds if screening uptake continues to decline and falls by another 5%[3]. Furthermore if all women were regularly screened the NHS would save £10m a year and the Treasury up to £6m[4] in addition to huge savings for the individual.


Frankie’s story:

“I was probably about a year late taking up my invitation. I let things get in the way such as my job and moving house. It wasn't until I was about 26 and a half when I was at a doctor's appointment and she said I still needed a smear test. We booked it in for the following Wednesday and on the Friday I got a phone call from the receptionist asking to come in that day - that's when I knew something was wrong. I was fast tracked for a colposcopy and they took a biopsy. 6 weeks later I had to go back to the hospital. I went to the appointment on my own, in my lunch hour from work. The surgeon who had carried out my colposcopy took me into his office and said "I'm sorry to say that unfortunately you have cancer. I was diagnosed with stage 1B cervical cancer and had to have a trachelectomy (surgery to remove part of the cervix, surrounding tissue and lymph nodes). I got the all clear after that and have been cancer free since 2013.

It is so easy to put off screening. People think cancer is one of those things that happen to other people, and don’t think that they could be at risk. I’ve been incredibly lucky. If I had put mine off any longer I may have lost my life. I would urge every young woman to attend for the test as soon as they get that letter. It could save their life.”



For further comment, interviews or case studies please contact Kate Sanger, Head of Communications, [email protected] 020 7250 8311


About Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is the UK's only charity dedicated to supporting women and their families affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. The charity also campaigns to increase awareness of the disease and bring down numbers diagnosed through promoting the cervical screening and HPV vaccination programmes. The charity’s national helpline is on 0808 802 8000.

About cervical cancer and screening

  • Around 3 women in the UK die each day from cervical cancer, with someone diagnosed every 3 hours
  • Over 220,000 women a year are told they may have a cervical abnormality that could require treatment
  • The majority (99.7%) of cervical cancers are caused by persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection which causes changes to the cervical cells. Anyone who is sexually active can be infected with HPV at some time
  • In the UK women aged 25-49 are invited for cervical screening every 3 years and from 50-64 every 5 years

[1]coverage is defined as the percentage of women in a population eligible for screening (aged 25-64) at a given point in time (31 Match 2016) who were screened adequately within a defined period. This takes into account the frequency of screening at different ag groups, 3.5 years for women aged 25-49 and 5.5 years for women aged 50-64.

[2] based on 5 year coverage

[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