The number of eligible women who attend cervical cancer screening appointments has dropped from 75.7% to 72.7% since 2011, according to the results of a new survey from University College London. Worryingly, this study found that of those women failing to attend appointments, nearly one quarter are unaware that cervical cancer screening exists.

In light of these recent statistics, medical professionals have warned that we cannot become complacent in the efforts to encourage more women to get screened. As a result, alternative awareness-raising methods are being looked into to reach more women around the country.

So how aware are you when it comes to cervical cancer screening?

 

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a form of cancer which develops in the cervix (the passage between the womb and the vagina). All cases of this cancer type are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV); a highly common virus which can easily be passed on through any form of sexual contact. In the early stages of cervical cancer, there are usually no symptoms. One symptom which may possibly occur, however, is unusual vaginal bleeding in between periods, particularly after sex.

Every year there are around 3,224 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the UK. The disease is also responsible for, on average, 890 deaths every year. The survival rate for cervical cancer is currently just 63%. The most important factor in the fight against cervical cancer is an early diagnosis, which allows patients to be treated quickly and makes treatment more likely to be successful. When diagnosed in its early stages, the disease can be treated with a surgical procedure called a hysterectomy. Radiotherapy can also be used as an alternative to surgery or alongside it. Each case of cervical cancer is different and will be dealt with uniquely.

 

Cervical cancer screening – what you need to know

Cervical cancer screening, which was formerly referred to as the smear test, involves a sample of cells being taken from the cervix and tested for abnormalities. The whole process takes around three minutes and causes minimal pain or discomfort.

One common mistake that many people make is believing that cervical cancer screening is a test for cancer. This is not the case; instead, it is a test for abnormalities in the cells of the cervix. Identifying these abnormal changes at an early stage allows them to be treated swiftly enough to prevent cancer developing. It is important to note that in most cases where unhealthy cells are detected after a screening, there is no cause for alarm and the cells will go back to normal on their own. However, some instances will require immediate treatment.

Since the cervical cancer screening programme was introduced in the 1980s, cases of the condition have reduced by around 7% each year. Every woman who is registered with a GP in the UK is eligible for screening; the invitations are given out to each age group as follows:

  • 25 to 49 – every three years
  • 50 to 64 – every five years
  • 65 and over – only those who haven’t been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal test results

 

Recent campaigns

Some of the ways in which the NHS and charities are aiming to encourage more eligible women to attend cervical cancer screening appointments are with various awareness days and campaigns. For example, Cervical Screening Awareness week is held each year between the 13th and 19th of June. The campaign is led by the charity, Jo’s Trust, in memory of a woman who died from cervical cancer in 1995 when information was more difficult to come by.

Cervical Screening Awareness Week works to get more women to attend screening appointments by encouraging survivors of cervical cancer to share their stories with the public and recruiting volunteers to raise money and awareness through special events across the country.

Similarly, Cervical Cancer Prevention Week was launched with the tagline #SmearForSmear on social media, to get people around the UK taking about cervical cancer screening.

For more information on cervical cancer screening in your area, please visit the NHS Choices website.