NHS launches campaign as a third still don't attend cervical cancer screenings

From the age of 25, cervical cancer screenings are advised – but one in three aren’t attending them.

Despite calls for the starting age to be lowered along with changes in what specifically is tested for to make them even more thorough, many who are eligible for the screening are avoiding appointments.

The pandemic made getting an appointment harder as more people missed theirs due to fears of catching Covid, or there being cancellations.

Still, there is a backlog and a resistant attitude among some towards having the health check.

From today, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the NHS are launching a campaign to increase the number of those eligible going to their screenings in England.

Hoping people will catch up on missed appointments, the campaign, called ‘Help Us Help You – Cervical Screening Saves Lives’, is aiming to address the large numbers who have never been to a screening.

In March 2021, figures showed that 30% of those due to be checked between the ages of 25 and 64 were not screened.

Statistics also show around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and 690 sadly die from the disease.

Previous estimates suggest screenings prevent 70% of deaths, but the NHS believe as much as 83% could be prevented if everyone attended regularly.

Their new survey of 3,000 women and people with a cervix reveals embarrassment is the most common reason for not attending.

42% of respondents felt that way, while 34% ‘kept putting it off’ and 28% worried it would be painful.

Those in the queer community were far more likely to skip appointments too, with 15% never having had a smear test at all.

Maria Caulfield, Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care, says: ‘Around two women die every day from cervical cancer, but screening takes just a few minutes and can stop the disease before it starts.

‘Through our new campaign we’re calling on all women and people with a cervix to get screened to help save hundreds of lives.

‘Even if you’re feeling embarrassed or nervous, please don’t ignore your invitation.’

The survey highlighted that 81% of those who had attended appointments found their nurse or doctor to be helpful in making them feel at ease, despite nerves.

Over half were also shocked by how quick the experience was.

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and Medical Director for Primary Care at NHS England, adds: ‘We know that it can feel embarrassing or feel like something that you can easily put off, but accepting your invite and getting checked could save your life.

‘And please do speak to your GP practice about any concerns you might have – we are here to help you.’

What does a cervical cancer screening look for?

The NHS explains: ‘Cervical screening checks for high-risk types of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a common virus that most people will get at some point.

‘While for people with high-risk HPV the risk of getting cancer is low, any abnormal changes can be identified early.  

‘Cell changes are easily treated, and this prevents cervical cancer. That is why attending screening appointments is so important.’

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