New smear test campaign launched in Northampton to tackle decline in women getting tested

Cervical cancer screening
Cervical cancer screening

Public Health England has today launched a major campaign in the East Midlands ‘Cervical Screening Saves Lives’, to increase the number of women attending their cervical screening.

The campaign will encourage women to respond to their cervical screening invitation letter, and if they missed their last screening, to book an appointment at their GP practice.

Around 258 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the East Midlands each year and around 69 women die from the disease.

It is estimated that if everyone attended screening regularly, 83 per cent of cervical cancer cases could be prevented.

Agnes Belencsak, screening and immunisation lead, Public Health England (PHE) East Midlands, said: “It’s worrying to see a decline in women attending for their screening appointments and there maybe a number of reasons that women put off going for their appointment, including embarrassment or concerns over the procedure itself.

“A smear test is the best way to detect abnormal cells in the cervix and early detection and treatment is vital so abnormal cells don’t turn into cervical cancer.

"I would encourage anyone who is invited for screening who have concerns to talk to their nurse at their GP’s beforehand. No question is silly or a concern too small and they will make you feel more at ease with the process.”

New research from Public Health England shows that nearly all women eligible for screening (90 per cent) would be likely to take a test that could help prevent cancer, and of those who have attended screening, nine in 10 (94 per cent) would encourage others who are worried to attend their cervical screening.

Despite this, screening is at a 20-year low, with one in four eligible women (those aged 25 – 64) in the UK not attending their test.

The screening rate for the East Midlands is 74.5 per cent, below the national standard of 80 per cent.

The new PHE campaign provides practical information about how to make the test more comfortable and gives reassurance to women, who may be fearful of finding out they have cancer, that screening is not a test for cancer.

Regular screening, which only takes a few minutes, can help stop cervical cancer before it starts, as the test identifies potentially harmful cells before they become cancerous and ensures women get the right treatment as soon as possible.

The PHE research shows that once women have been screened, the vast majority of women feel positive about the experience, with eight in 10 (87 per cent) stating they are glad they went and that they were put at ease by the nurse or doctor doing the test (84 per cent).

Dr Dawn Harper is supporting the campaign: “Cervical screening is one of the most important things women can do to protect themselves from the risk of cervical cancer. Screening can stop cancer before it starts and saves thousands of lives every year.

“Some women are nervous or embarrassed about the test and put off having it done. While it’s not the most enjoyable experience most women say it wasn’t as bad as expected and were glad they did it. The tests are usually done at your GP surgery by female nurses who are trained to make women feel more comfortable and talk them through the process. I cannot stress how important it is not to ignore your screening letter – it’s a five minute test that could be lifesaving.”

Chhaya, 42, from Northampton is just one example of a woman who has benefited from cervical screening. "I had an abnormal result for my cervical screening test results and was successfully treated. I’m so glad I had the test.

"Since then, I religiously book my appointment when I receive my invitation and just tell myself that even if it is uncomfortable, that five minutes of discomfort could save my life. I’m pleased this campaign is raising awareness of the importance of cervical screening and I hope more women - including Asian women - will be encouraged to book an appointment if they missed their last screening test."

The campaign is also being supported by leading charities across England including Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Activity includes new advertising on TV and other channels, together with the cascade of information through GP surgeries and pharmacies.

For further information about cervical screening, please search ‘NHS Cervical Screening’ or visit www.nhs.uk/cervicalscreening.