Nearly a third of women ignored invitations to have a smear test for cancer last year, official statistics reveal.
Uptake of the English cervical screening programme is at its lowest level for 20 years, with more than 1.2million women aged 25 to 64 failing to turn up in 2016/17.
Health bosses last night urged GPs to provide more morning and evening screening appointments, in a bid to make it as easy as possible for busy women to attend.
Just 72 per cent of invited women were tested last year, down from 75.7 per cent in 2011.
And among the youngest group of 25 to 29-year-olds, just 62.1 per cent attended, according to the NHS Digital statistics.
Health bosses have urged GPs to provide more convenient appointment in a bid to raise uptake of cervical screening (stock photo)
Uptake of the test fell across every age group and in every local authority in England in the last year, the damning statistics show.
Cervical cancer affects 3,200 women a year in Britain, and kills roughly 900, but rates of the disease are projected to rise nearly 40 per cent in the next 20 years.
Screening saves thousands
Smear tests involve taking a sample of cells from the neck of the womb.
Women aged between 25 and 49 are invited for screening every three years, and when they are aged 50 to 64, every five years.
These regular tests aim to spot pre-cancerous cells which can be treated before they develop into tumours that can spread throughout the body.
The national screening programme has been credited with slashing cervical cancer rates by 44 per cent since the 1970s.
Experts think another 2,000 women would be killed by the disease every year without the programme.
The death of reality TV star Jade Goody with cervical cancer in 2009 triggered a spike in the number of women attending screening – but that effect has faltered since, with numbers gradually falling.
The smear test involves an intimate swab, which is thought to put many women off.
And if they test positive at the initial screen, they are recalled for a biopsy to confirm the result – which can be painful – which also deters women.
Younger women missing out
‘The Jade Goody effect has long gone,’ says a cancer charity
The new data suggests that younger women, in particular, are not getting themselves tested.
A total of 4.45 million women were invited for screening in 2016/17, but only 3.18million attended.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: ‘I am extremely disappointed to see these statistics, however sadly I am not surprised.
‘The Jade Goody effect has long gone.
‘We have spoken out time and time again about the need for investment and action to improve cervical screening attendance, however this is simply not happening.
‘We are leading busier, more mobile lives therefore these statistics must surely serve as a call to action to make the screening programme more accessible, again, something we have been saying for years.’
Lack of convenient appointments
In a report released in January 2017, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found almost 44 per cent of local authorities and 60 per cent of NHS clinical commissioning groups had not undertaken any activities to increase screening attendance in the last two years.
But Public Health England believes lack of access to convenient appointments is a major cause of declining attendance, along with embarrassment, fear and lack of awareness.
Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England, said: ‘It is of real concern that fewer women, particularly younger women are not being screened, with over a third of women under 30 not taking the test.
‘If women are embarrassed about having the test or worried about what the test results might say, they should talk to their GP who can explain why the test is important.’
Public Health England said it is ‘encouraging GPs to consider offering a variety of appointments earlier in the morning and evening, making it easier for women to attend at a time that suits them’.
SYMPTOMS OF CERVICAL CANCER
The symptoms of cervical cancer aren’t always obvious, and it may not cause any symptoms at all until it’s reached an advanced stage.
This is why it’s very important that you attend all of your cervical screening appointments.
In most cases, vaginal bleeding is the first noticeable symptom of cervical cancer. It usually occurs after having sex.
Bleeding at any other time, other than your expected monthly period, is also considered unusual. This includes bleeding after the menopause (when a woman’s monthly periods stop).
Other symptoms of cervical cancer may include pain and discomfort during sex and an unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge.
Advanced cervical cancer
If the cancer spreads out of your cervix and into surrounding tissue and organs, it can trigger a range of other symptoms, including:
- Blood in your urine (haematuria)
- Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence)
- Bone pain
- Swelling of one of your legs
- Severe pain in your side or back caused by swelling in your kidneys, related to a condition called hydronephrosis
- Changes to your bladder and bowel habits
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Tiredness and a lack of energy
Source: NHS Choices