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Cervical cancer screening hits 10-year low

Posted on the 25th January 2023

Cervical Cancer Prevention

This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and comes as shocking new data from NHS England reveals record numbers of women and people with cervixes are still not being screened for cervical cancer.

The figures show that 4.6 million women aged 25-64 in England have never been screened for cervical cancer or are not up to date with their tests. This represents the highest rate of underscreening in a decade.

The statistics also reveal that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates among eligible 12-13-year-olds fell significantly in 2021-22. Vaccine uptake was down by 7 per cent among Year 8 schoolgirls and fell by 8.7 per cent among Year 8 schoolboys compared with the previous year.

Cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer among women in the UK. 3,200 cases are diagnosed each year, more than a quarter of which result in death. Despite its prevalence, the disease is highly preventable through screening and vaccination programmes.

The charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which campaigns to raise awareness and reduce the impact of cervical cancer across the UK, fears that the lack of screening could cause excess deaths, as half of all cervical cancers occur among people who are behind on their tests.

Samantha Dixon, the charity’s chief executive, has called on the government to address inequalities in access to cervical screening and HPV vaccination uptake: “Other countries are much further along the path to ending this cancer and we do not want the UK to fall behind.”

Recent research by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has also found that only 16 per cent of those working in the cervical cancer sector believe enough is being done to encourage screening uptake, and only 20 per cent believe sufficient measures are being implemented to ensure high HPV vaccination rates.

In a range of London boroughs, at-home screening for cervical cancer is currently being trialled as part of the YouScreen initiative, with more than 31,000 women being offered home swab kits to gather self-samples.

Given that traditional tests are carried out at GP practices or other health facilities, a lack of choice in where and when appointments can be carried out is often cited as an impediment to screening uptake, especially for those with work or childcare commitments. Cultural barriers and a lack of accessibility for those with disabilities have also been blamed for low uptake.

Related: Bowel cancer treatment breakthrough

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