Public Health England is set to launch a new campaign urging more women to test for cervical cancer, after coverage reached the lowest point in two decades.
In November, figures published by NHS Digital revealed that in 2017/18 the percentage of eligible women aged 25 to 64 that were screened adequately was 71.4%. This compares with 72% in 2016/17 and 72.7% in 2015/16.
This is the lowest level since records started in 2004/05 – and is despite an increase in the number of eligible women invited.
PHE has said this means coverage is now ‘at a 20-year low’ and it wants to address the issue through its first national multimedia cervical screening campaign.
The new campaign, which will start on 5 March, will inform all eligible women about the risks of cervical cancer and encourage them to get a screening test.
It will mainly target women aged 25 to 35, but also include those from ethnic minority groups, with lower socio-economic backgrounds, as well as lesbians and bisexual women, who are deemed ‘disproportionately less likely to participate’, according to PHE.
PHE estimated that testing all eligible women regularly could help prevent 83% of cervical cancer deaths.
But in March, the body reported that only one out of 207 CCGs met the 80% national screening target for under 50s.
PHE director of screening Professor Anne Mackie said: ‘The Be Clear on Cancer campaign will play a vital role in raising the awareness of cervical screening, as it’s a real concern that fewer women, particularly younger women, are taking screening up.
‘We know that for some women worries about embarrassment or discomfort can put them off taking the test. We hope the campaign will make it clearer to them what the test involves so they can decide if it’s right for them.’
The NHS cervical screening programme was launched in 1988 to identify women at risk of cancer due to abnormal cells on their cervix. It is estimated that the initiative has saved around 5,000 lives per year since its introduction.