How Cervical Screenings Can Reduce Your Risk Of Cancer

Jade Goody’s legacy was to raise awareness of cervical cancer among younger women - but as we enter Cervical Screening Awareness Week, a leading charity asks whether we have learned enough?

Over 20% of women in the UK still fail to attend cervical screening when invited according to The Eve Appeal.

"Over the last 10 years, we have seen a downward trend in the number of women screened," the charity said. "Apart from an increase in 2009 associated with media attention around Jade’s sad death, coverage has fallen or stayed the same since 2003 when it was 81.2%.

"Cervical screening can prevent cervical cancer and is estimated to save up to 5,000 lives each year and yet attendance is still falling."

Each year in the UK over 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed and more than half of these are in women under the age of 50. Although very rare in women under 25, it is the second most common cancer in women under 35.

For women of all ages, the best way of reducing your risk of developing cervical cancer is regular screening and in England, Wales and N. Ireland women aged 25 to 49 are invited for screening from the age of 25 and Scotland will be amended to come in line with the rest of the UK next year. However it is important to understand that cervical screening is not screening for gynaecological cancers, rather for abnormal cells on the cervix which can lead to cervical cancer.

Abnormal cells on the cervix don’t usually have any symptoms, which is why it is so important to go for screenings regularly. If there are signs of abnormal cells, treating them is often simple and can prevent cancer developing.

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by a common sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV) which most women have at some time but usually clears up on its own. If the infection doesn’t clear up there is a risk of abnormal cells developing which could become cervical cancer over time.

Almost all cases of cervical cancer can be prevented by screening and HPV vaccination.

Robert Marsh, CEO of The Eve Appeal says: “The earlier cervical cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome will be. Screening is free and can save your life so please, pick up the phone as soon as that letter drops through the letterbox.”

To reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer:

  • Go for screening when invited
  • Have the HPV vaccine if you are offered it
  • If you smoke, try to stop
  • Use a condom to reduce your risk of HPV and other sexually transmitted infections

A new report by think tank Demos revealed the health service in England could save almost £10 million annually if it was to encourage all eligible women to take part in cervical screening.

It would also lead to a big reduction in the number of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer.

The authors of the report called for the introduction of "on the spot" smear tests so women can be offered a screening during another appointment to overcome the tendency of some women who "put off" their screening.

And there should be awareness campaigns targeting specific communities who are less likely to take up their screening invite.

Meanwhile celebrities or religious leaders should become cervical cancer ambassadors to help women "overcome cultural obstacles" to improving screening rates, they said.

The report's author Jo Salter, a researcher at Demos, said: "With cervical cancer, the stakes are so high - both cost and health-wise - but in many cases it can be avoided through screening. So it is worrying that so many women are currently ignoring their screening invitations.

"We know that many obstacles stand in the way of cervical screening - nervousness, embarrassment, lack of time, lack of knowledge, overwhelmed services, and a feeling of 'it will never happen to me'. It is crucial that these obstacles are removed, making it as easy as possible for women to make cervical screening part of their regular routine, as a smart, precautionary measure."