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Only three in 10 women take up all cancer screening invitations, finds research

Just over a third of older women participate in all cancer screening programmes, a new study has shown. 

Researchers from King’s College London and Queen Mary University of London found that 35% of women aged between 60 and 65 take up all three recommended cancer screening invitations, including breast, cervical and bowel, in England. 

The authors said the findings show the extent of the inequalities in cancer screening uptake, especially in areas suffering higher levels of deprivation. 

In a control study published in the Journal of Medical Screening, researchers looked at the number of screening programmes 3,060 eligible women participated in during their last invitation round.

They also explored the correlations between uptake and population characteristics at practice level such as deprivation levels and patient satisfaction.

Results showed that 35% of these women took part in all three screening programmes, while 37% participated in two programmes, 17% accessed one type of screening and 10% were not screened at all.

The study also found that GP practices in less deprived areas, with a higher proportion of patients who are carers or suffer chronic conditions and with a high level of patient satisfaction were ‘significantly more likely to attain high coverage rates in all programmes’. 

Conversely, practices with a higher proportion of unemployed patients and smokers had a lower uptake rate.  

Lead author Dr Matejka Rebolj from King’s College London said: ‘It is worrying that only a third of women are up to date with all offered cancer screenings and that 10% remained completely unscreened in the last round. Indeed, similar patterns have been reported from other countries too.

‘It is crucial for us to look at the take-up rates in certain areas and in certain practices and address women’s preferences for future screening programmes. We need to understand and target specifically those women who obtain some screening, but decide not to take up all the life-saving screening that is offered to them by the NHS. It is important that policymakers now look at these findings to inform what can be done in the future to reduce the significant number of deaths in the over 60-year olds.’

Senior author Professor Stephen Duffy from Queen Mary University of London said: ‘These results demonstrate the inequalities in cancer screening participation, with the lowest levels of participation in the areas of highest deprivation.

‘Since most women had at least one form of screening, we know that there isn’t an objection to screening as a whole. However, individuals find some screening procedures less acceptable than others, so the key to improving participation is making the screening experience better.

In March, PHE launched a major campaign in a bid to tackle the 20-year low in cervical screening uptake.

Research published in April suggested that cervical screening rates have dropped in some areas due to ‘confusion’ over the roles that CCGs, local authorities and NHS England had to play in delivering screening following changes in the 2013 Health and Social Care Act.


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