Each day in England, two women die of cervical cancer.
It’s a stark fact, made all the more alarming by recent news that the number of women attending cervical screenings has fallen to a 20-year low.
Now, a new campaign from Public Health England is seeking to urge women to attend their routine check in hopes of boosting these figures. It is hoped the national 'Cervical Screening Saves Lives’ campaign will encourage women to respond to their cervical screening invitation letter, and if they missed their last screening, to book an appointment at their GP practice.
I was 25 when I had my first cervical screening test at my mum’s encouragement.
I gave the results little thought until the envelope came through the letterbox a couple of weeks later, informing me that I had high-grade dyskaryosis: moderate to severe pre-cancerous cell changes. I was immediately booked in for a colposcopy – a simple procedure, not unlike the initial screening, where doctors examined my cervix. This was followed by LLETZ treatment, to remove the pre-cancerous cells, and a biopsy.
Luckily, the news came back that the treatment had removed all the dangerous cells. In the ten years since, I’ve given birth to my daughter – something the treatment had no impact on – and thanked my lucky stars regularly that I didn’t put off the simple, five-minute routine check that potentially saved my life. At my insistence, every female friend and family member I have also take up their own regular appointments.
According to PHE, around 275 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Yorkshire and the Humber each year, and around 76 women die from the disease. It is estimated that if everyone attended screening regularly, 83 per cent of cervical cancer cases could be prevented.
New research has shown that 90 per cent of women eligible for screening said they would be likely to take a test that could help prevent cancer, and of those who have attended screening, 94 per cent would encourage others who are worried to attend their cervical screening. Despite this fact, screening is at a 20-year low, with one in four eligible women – those aged 25 – 64 - in the UK not attending their test. The screening rate for Yorkshire and the Humber is 74 per cent - below the national standard of 80 per cent.
The new PHE campaign provides practical information about how to make the test more comfortable and gives reassurance to women, who may be fearful of finding out they have cancer, that screening is not a test for cancer. Regular screening, which only takes a few minutes, can help stop cervical cancer before it starts, as the test identifies potentially harmful cells before they become cancerous and ensures women get the right treatment as soon as possible.
The PHE research shows that once women have been screened, the vast majority of women feel positive about the experience, with 87 per cent stating they are glad they went and that they were put at ease by the nurse or doctor doing the test .
Dr Sally Eapen-Simon, of Public Health England Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “Some women are nervous or embarrassed about the test, but while it’s not the most enjoyable experience, most women say it wasn’t as bad as expected.
“Screening is one of the most important things we can do to protect ourselves from the risk of cervical cancer. I cannot stress how important it is not to ignore your screening letter – it’s a five minute test that could be lifesaving.”