The first ever government campaign to encourage women to attend their cervical smear tests has been launched as it’s revealed the number of women skipping their screenings is at a 20-year high.
Cervical screenings, better known as smear tests, are free on the NHS for all women aged between 25 and 64.
They can detect the early signs of cervical cancer before the “abnormal cells” become cancerous.
But one in four women are not attending their tests, despite one in nine saying they would take a test that could help prevent cancer.
Public Health England has launched a national campaign to try to counter this trend using TV and digital adverts.
The TV advert depicts women talking to family members and friends and thanking them for reminding them to go to their cervical screening.
Isha Webber, a supporter of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, was 29 when abnormal cells were found at her second smear test. Her first at the age of 25 had come back clear.
She had a small procedure to remove the cells and will have a follow up screening in a few months to ensure it was successful.
She wonders what might have happened if she’d not been screened.
“I feel like it might have been less reversible, more risky, I might have developed more symptoms because I had no symptoms at that time. I’m so glad I went at that time, it’s really important more women go every three years.”
Cervical cancer is described by doctors as one of the most misunderstood cancers, but it kills two people every day in England.
It’s estimated that if everyone attended their screenings 83% of cases could be prevented.
The challenge for doctors is to ensure people link their screenings to cancer prevention.
“The statistics really shocked me, because women are mostly becoming more health savvy, says Doctor Anita Mitra, Specialist Registrar in Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
“But the predominant reason is lack of understanding of the test and also a lack of time, we’re very busy today!
“We really need to prioritise our health and this is one of the things we really need to be doing.”
It’s nearly 10 years since reality TV star Jade Goody died from cervical cancer. She had ignored a letter saying abnormal cells were found on her cervix.
Following her death, the number of women who attend screening rose by half a million, but the so- called “Jade Goody effect” has now waned.
The challenge is not just to rebuild these numbers but to specifically target groups who are less likely to attend screenings, particularly black and minority ethnic women, younger women and those in the LGBT community.
“In some groups there are concerns about modesty and discomfort,” says Professor Julia Verne, consultant in Public Health at Public Health England.
“So we have a special campaign trying to reach those women and explain more about the programme.
“Similarly we know that the uptake of cervical screening amongst lesbian and bi women is lower, partly that is due to the fact there is a lower awareness that they too could be at risk of developing cervical cancer.
“So we have specially targeted messages and greater explanation why there could still be a risk of cervical cancer for those women too.”
(c) Sky News 2019: Cervical smear campaign launched as ‘Jade Goody effect’ wears off