By Ellie Broughton
Increasing numbers of women are missing cervical cancer tests, as publicity around the disease dwindles.
The late reality TV star Jade Goody was diagnosed with cervical cancer in August 2008 and died the following March aged 27. In the year before her death, the number of 25-49 year old women who went for a smear peaked at 3.6 million, up from 3.4 million women aged 25-64 the previous year.
But the latest Department of Health figures show the effect has faded, with 3.3 million 25-49 year olds screened for cervical cancer in 2009/10, only 0.1 million more than in 2007/8.
The figures come after a survey found many working women found it difficult to take time off for the test.
Dr Anne Connolly, GP in Bradford and clinical lead in women’s and sexual health at NHS Bradford and Airedale NHS, said she’d noticed fewer women coming for cervical screening.
She said: ‘Whenever you get a lot of publicity for cervical cancer people are reminded of the need to go for screening.’
‘Often the women who skip it need it most – these are not the worried well. Women at higher risk, for instance smokers, are often more relaxed about their health.’
Dr Jane Woyka, a GP in Harrow and associate specialist in women’s health, said the Jade Goody effect was waning, but she was optimistic that screening rates would pick up with the introduction of HPV testing.
‘HPV testing is a different way to look for cervical cancer with a good rate of pick up. It is a bit over sensitive, but you can do it yourself without having to visit a doctor.’
A poll by charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that four in 10 working women said it was difficult to miss work for a screening appointment, and many said they were too embarrassed to ask for time off.
Robert Music, director of Jo’s Trust, said: ‘We saw a surge in women going for screening after Jade Goody died. Sadly that hasn’t been sustained. I am concerned that there is a worrying downward trend with thousands of women ignoring their screening invitation.’
Almost 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, while almost 1,000 die. Screening is thought to save 5,000 lives a year.