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PHE concern as cervical cancer screening uptake continues decline

The uptake of cervical cancer screening among eligible women continued to slide downwards in the last year.

Across all eligible age groups, coverage fell by 0.7% to 72.0% in 2016/17, according to NHS Digital’s annual screening programme update.

This represented a continued decline since age-appropriate screening was brought in back in 2011. In March 2012, coverage was at 75.4% and this has declined every year with the exception of 2014, when there was a 0.3% increase.

Public Health England said the figures were worrying. As it stands, 70% of cervical cancer deaths are prevented through screening but if everyone attended screening regularly 83% of cases could be prevented.

As at 31 March this year:

  • Coverage for women aged 25-49 was 69.6%, compared to 70.2% on the same date in 2016.
  • For the 25-29-year age group, uptake was just 62%.
  • For women aged 50-64, coverage was 77.2%, a decline from 78.0% in 2016.
  • Five-year coverage (those who have had a test in the last five years) for women aged 25-64 was 75.5% compared with 76.5% in 2016.

However, because there was an increase in invitations by 5.6%, the overall number of tests carried out increased by 2.9%, covering 3.18m women in total.

There was also regional variation, across the whole elibigle age group, ranging from 65.7% in London to 75.4% in the East Midlands, with all regions reporting a decline from the previous year.

Under the NHS cervical screening programme, women aged 25-49 are called for a test every three years, while women aged 50-64 are invited for screening every five years.

In the last year, in a bid to identify where screening levels could be improved, data dashboards containing quarterly figures were developed by NHS Digital and Public Health England working in cooperation with cancer charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

NHS Digital’s report said: ‘The long term trend shows a gradual fall in five year coverage over the last ten years.’

PHE director of screening Professor Anne Mackie 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.’



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