The incidence of cervical cancer in women aged over 50 will increase sharply if current screening trends continue, a UK charity is warning.
Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust has forecast that, by 2040, cervical cancer will jump 16 percent among 60-64 year-olds and by 85 percent among 70-74 year-olds if screening uptake stays at the same level.
A 100 percent increase in mortality among 60-64 year olds is also "a very real threat" rising to "a massive 117 percent" if screening uptake continues to decline and falls by another 5 percent, it warned.
The predictions spur from a survey of more than 1,000 women undertaken for the charity, which showed that one in three have delayed or not attended potentially life-saving smear tests, with an average delay of 26 months and 10 percent delaying for over five years.
Of those who put off screening, 32 percent find it embarrassing, 25 percent find it hard to book a convenient appointment, 20 percent have had a previous bad experience and 19 percent find it painful.
The research also revealed that 32 percent of women over 50 do not think cervical screening is part of the healthy upkeep of a woman's body and almost one in four (22 percent) do not think they are important to have regularly.
Almost half did not agree or did not know the cervical-cancer causing Human papillomavirus (HPV) is common, while one 21 percent did not agree or did not know that regular cervical screening reduces the risk of the disease.
Experts fear that the lack of understanding surrounding cervical cancer and screening will drive significant increases in the disease; the latest statistics already show incidences of cervical cancer in the UK have risen from eight diagnoses every day to nine each day, meaning 3,207 women a year now face a diagnosis.
"Cervical cancer is a preventable disease so it is extremely worrying that diagnoses have risen," said Robert Music, the charity's chief executive. "Not attending cervical screening is the biggest risk factor to developing cervical cancer, yet attendance declines with age and among women aged 60-64 uptake is now at an 18 year low at just 72.4 percent."
"The 2015 Cancer Strategy for England highlights the need to increase screening attendance and I am afraid that if we do not tackle this with a sense of urgency we are only exacerbating the ticking time bomb of increased incidence," he stressed.
"Cervical screening currently saves 4,500 lives a year, but it could save more if everyone took the opportunity to be screened," added Jane Ellison, parliamentary under secretary of state for public health.