Public Health England has launched a major cervical screening campaign to boost the number of women taking smear tests after attendance levels reached a 20-year low.
One in four women who are eligible to take a smear test in the UK are not doing so, PHE warned as it revealed its Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign this week.
As part of the campaign, women between the ages of 25 and 64 are being asked to book a test at their GP practice if they missed their last screening.
PHE has shared new research that found eight out of 10 women feel positively about the test and are glad they went.
It is estimated that 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented if screening tests were regularly attended.
Public health minister Steve Brine said women dying of cervical cancer is a ‘tragedy’, given how a simple test can identify risks early on.
He added: ‘Improving cancer detection and diagnosis is a core part of our long-term plan for the NHS, and from April, any patients with suspected cancer will begin to receive a diagnosis or the all clear within 28 days, and £200 million is being invested to fund new ways to rapidly detect and treat cancer.’
PHE’s director of screening programmes, Professor Anne Mackie, added the low attendance is a ‘major concern’.
She said: ‘The decline in numbers getting screened for cervical cancer is a major concern as it means millions of women are missing out on a potentially life-saving test.
‘We want to see a future generation free of cervical cancer but we will only achieve our vision if women take up their screening invitations. This is a simple test which takes just five minutes and could save your life. It’s just not worth ignoring.’
Some 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England every year, of which 690 will die. This amounts to two deaths a day.
GP practices are able compare the numbers of patients screened against those eligible for screening at their practice, after a tool was launched by PHE in 2017 to help boost uptake.
Meanwhile, a study published in the BMJ last month found cervical screenings could be safely extended to at least five years following a switch to HPV tests from traditional cytology (smear) testing.
NHS England and PHE have pledged to rollout HPV screening by the end of 2019.