MORE THAN a million women could be at risk of cervical cancer after shunning their smear test, new figures reveal.
The latest NHS stats show that 72.2 per cent attended their regular cervical screening in England in between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020.
More than a million women missed their cervical cancer screening last yearCredit: Getty – Contributor
It means than more 1.4 million women ignored their invite for the lifesaving test.
The latest data from NHS England shows that in total, 4.63million women aged between 25 and 64 were offered a smear test during 2019-20.
But only 3.2million attended their appointment – a drop of 6.8 per cent on the previous year.
The regional variation in those attending their smear test ranged from 64.7 per cent in London to 75.5 per cent in the North East.
Rutland in the East Midlands was the only place where more than 80 per cent of eligible women were tested.
It’s the first time a local authority has met or exceeded the cervical cancer screening target.
Kensington and Chelsea in London saw the fewest number attend their smear between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, at 49.8 per cent.
Nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every day in the UK.
FIGURES WILL RISE
Whilst the NHS data shows a slight increase in attendance figures, campaigners caution that they are pre-pandemic numbers.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust warns that the figure is only expected to rise due to screening services pausing during the coronavirus lockdown.
Robert Music, chief executive at the charity, said: “In a ’normal’ year an increase in attendance could be a glimmer of hope.
“However, this year it must come with a dose of reality as these numbers represent the state of play before the pandemic.
Cervical cancer is almost always treatable if it’s caught early onCredit: Getty – Contributor
“It is hard to say what the picture is now, but we have new challenges to contend with as a result of Covid-19 which include disruptions to services and public uncertainty about attending at the moment.
“The small increase also includes the impact of Public Health England’s national campaign last year.
“What this new data shows is there is a clear need for systemic change in the cervical screening programme to see a bigger impact on uptake. HPV self-sampling is something we have long been calling for.”
He added: “There have long been widespread inequalities in access to screening. We are concerned, that not only does the pandemic mean they have not been addressed but instead widened.
“Our research shows that groups at higher risk of getting ill from coronavirus, including those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, are now less likely to take up this potentially lifesaving test.
Nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK every day and unless we protect cervical screening, we will see this number rise
“For those who found it difficult to attend before the pandemic, such as people with a physical disability, lockdowns have only made it test harder and specialist clinics for survivors of sexual violence had to close.
“Our NHS faces the huge challenge this winter of delivering Covid-19 vaccination programme, while maintaining vital services such as cancer.
“Cervical screening remains the best protection against cervical cancer and it is essential that the UK government protects the cervical screening programme, throughout the pandemic and beyond.
“Nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK every day and unless we protect cervical screening, we will see this number rise.”
Catching cervical cancer at the earliest stage – stage 1 – offers the best chance of survival.
But waiting to get screened could risk getting a late stage diagnosis – when there is only a five per cent chance of survival.
The best way to catch it early is to know the signs…
Early signs can include:
1. Abnormal bleeding (during or after sex, between periods and also post-menopause)period
The most common and earliest sign of cervical cancer tends to be irregular bleeding.
It happens when the cancer cells grow on the tissue below the cervix.
It’s an especially alarming sign in postmenopausal women who no longer have periods. There’s no age limit to developing cervical cancer.
2. Unusual vaginal discharge
Everyone’s discharge is different, so it’s a case of knowing what is normal for you.
If you find that the colour, smell and consistency has changed, then that’s something you really need to have checked out.
When cancer lacks oxygen, it can cause an infection which leads to strange smelling discharge.
3. Discomfort or pain during sex
Pain during sex can be a sign of a number of different issues, but one is cervical cancer.
Because the disease often comes with no symptoms, pain during intercourse is one of the key indicators. It can be a sign that the cancer is spreading to surrounding tissues.
4. Lower back pain
It could be down to you straining something in the gym, or it could be a warning sign that something’s wrong with your reproductive organs.
Persistent pain – just one off twinges – in the lower back, pelvis or appendix can be a symptom of cervical cancer.
5. Unintended weight loss
While effortless weight loss might sound like the answer to many of our prayers, it’s never a good sign if it happens seemingly without cause.
A loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss tend to be signs that the body isn’t working properly – it’s trying to conserve energy. If you notice that you’re not eating as you normally do, go to your GP.
As the disease progresses, it can also result in:
- increased need to pee
- blood in pee
- bleeding from the bottom
- lower limb swelling
What to do if you do experience any of these symptoms
If you experience any of these (do not wait for all of them to appear, just one is enough!), then make an appointment to talk to your GP immediately.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a recent smear test or not – or if you’re under 25 and haven’t been offered one yet. Although it’s rare, cervical cancer can strike earlier.
“Remember, cervical cancer is rare and all of these symptoms are often caused by something other than cancer,” Imogen says.
“But, if you have any symptoms, it is important to get checked by your GP straight away.”
Often, women don’t have any symptoms early on and that’s why it’s so absolutely crucial that you go for a regular smear.
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