Fewer women taking cervical cancer test

Figures from NHS Digital show a fall in the number of women aged 25 - 29 taking up their invitation of a cervical cancer test, with just 62 percent of younger women invited having taken the test in 2016.

As a result, Public Health England is appealing to young women to have cervical screening. There is an obvious benefit of having a cervical screening test (previously called a smear test). According to Public Health England, cervical screening currently prevents 70 percent of cervical cancer deaths. And if everyone attended screening on a regular basis, it claims 83 percent of cases could be prevented.

“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,” says Public Health England’s director of screening, Professor Anne Mackie.

“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.”

What does the test look for?

The cervical screening test helps to detect abnormal cells on the cervix, the entrance to the womb. Finding and removing abnormal cells can help prevent cervical cancer, which, says the NHS, is diagnosed in around 3,000 cases in the UK every year.

Cervical cancer is rare in women under 25, but you can develop it at any age – though it mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45. It also often has no symptoms in its early stages, which is why screening is important.

Abnormal cells on the cervix can develop as they undergo a series of changes over the course of many years (these changes are often caused by the human papilloma virus, or HPV). Very occasionally these cells can become cancerous. The good news is the cell changes can be detected at a very early stage through screening, and treatment can help reduce the risk of cervical cancer developing.

What happens?

During the test – which takes around five minutes – a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix and checked in a laboratory for abnormalities. It can be a little uncomfortable for some, but most women don’t experience any pain or discomfort.

According to the NHS, one in 20 women has a test result that shows some abnormal changes in the cells of her cervix, but most of these won’t lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal on their own. In some cases, however, the abnormal cells are removed so they don’t go on to develop into cancer.

The NHS screening programme is offered to all women from the age of 25. You will be offered screening every three years until you reach the age of 49, and from then until you’re 64 you’ll be invited for screening every five years. If you’re 65 or older, you will only usually be screened if you haven’t had the test since you were 50 or if you recently had the test and it showed abnormal results.

However, screening is a personal choice and you have the right to choose not to attend. If you’re not sure you should go for a cervical screening test, there is an online leaflet that may help you weigh up the pros and cons: NHS cervical screening – helping you decide.