New Cancer Research UK figures have revealed that despite cervical cancer rates in Britain halving between the late 1980s and mid-2000s, progress has now “stalled” as the uptake of cervical cancer screening has hit an “all time low”.
The new data, published to coincide with cervical cancer prevention week, marks a decade-long lack of progress, including a steep (54%) rise in rates among 25- to 29-year-olds, as well as suggesting that interventions don’t always reach the people who need them.
The “worrying trend” shows less than three-quarters of women invited for cervical screening take it up, a number that falls even further in younger age groups and more deprived regions. Cancer Research UK says that it believes this is part of the reason why cervical cancer still affects over 3,000 people each year.
Cervical cancer is “one of the few cancers that can be prevented through screening, and now the disease is far less common in the UK” explained Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Michelle Mitchell. “But these life-saving programmes can’t help people they can’t reach, which is why it’s important for us to continue to raise awareness and carry out research into how screening could be improved for hard-to-reach groups.”
Research carried out by the charity also found that around four in 10 women who didn’t attend put it down to embarrassment, while two in 10 were worried it might hurt. Others said they had no symptoms to get checked out or just didn’t feel they were at risk, revealing a lack of awareness about how screening works and who it’s for.
Last year the NHS warned the public that the misconception that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) women are not at risk of cervical cancer is putting 50,000 LGB women at risk.
The “fake news” had created a dangerous screening gap, as the affected women had never been for a cervical cancer screening test because they wrongly think they are not at risk.
Analysis of data from the LGBT Foundation has revealed that nearly one in five (19%) of LGB women who are eligible for cervical screening have never been to an appointment.
In the last 20 years Cancer Research UK funded clinical trials to help create the HPV vaccine, which is now offered to children across the country and expected to save many lives. Further, an estimated four out of five cases of cervical cancer, 83%, could be prevented if everyone attended regular screenings.