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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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1,400 Cumbrian women ignore call for smear tests

New figures have revealed that 14,000 Cumbrian women ignored invitations for vital cervical cancer screening in the last five years.

Rebecca Wagstaff photo
Rebecca Wagstaff

All women over the age of 24 are offered potentially lifesaving smear tests by their GP every three to five years.

Although the uptake rate in the county in relatively high, at 82 per cent, many women, particularly young women, are still not attending.

Health bosses want to see it improve further and are using Cervical Cancer Prevention Week to remind people that cervical cancer can kill.

Nationally, hundreds of women die from the illness – which is currently being highlighted by BBC soap EastEnders – every year.

Yet evidence shows that catching changes – through regular screening appointments – can save lives.

This is not a direct test for cancer. Instead it works by detecting early abnormalities in the cervix, the neck of the womb, so they can be treated. If these left untreated they can lead to cancer of the cervix.

It’s thought that on average cervical screening helps save the lives of 4,500 women in England every year.

Women will first be invited for a cervical screen, by letter, when they are aged 24 and four months. Screening is usually carried out by a GP or a surgery’s practice nurse.

In Cumbria, about 14,000 women have ignored invites in the past five years.

Take up is lowest, as is the case nationally, in the 25 to 35 age group. This is particularly concerning to health chiefs because the average age for women diagnosed with cervical cancer is 39.

Dr Rebecca Wagstaff, NHS Cumbria’s deputy director of public health, said: “I hope the coverage that cervical cancer and screening has had in EastEnders, with Tanya Jessop’s character being diagnosed with cervical cancer, will make women realise that having a smear test every few years is a simple way to look after yourself and reduce your chances of any abnormalities developing into cancer.

“Although hundreds of women die of cervical cancer each year, thousands of lives are saved as abnormalities are caught early and treated quickly. It’s so important that women who receive a letter inviting them to go for screening, do so.

“This is especially an issue in younger women in the 25 to 35 age group. They are as a group least likely to attend screening, and could be putting themselves at risk, as we know cervical cancer is almost most common in women in their thirties.

“Changes in the cervix don’t usually lead to cervical cancer, but they can. If these changes are detected early enough, then we can prevent women having to go through the drastic treatment and distress that cancer can cause.”

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