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NHS makes cervical screening plea

NHS makes cervical screening plea
08 March 2019

A senior nurse has backed the first national health campaign of its kind by urging eligible women to have their cervical screening test.

The plea was made this week by CCG clinical lead Katie Mills to coincide with the launch on Monday (5 March) of a Public Health England campaign to promote the test.

The campaign was prompted by figures which show that uptake of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme fell to a 20-year low in 2017-18. Fewer than 72 per cent of eligible women were screened, against a target of 80 per cent. And coverage was lowest among women aged 25 to 35.

There are many reasons why women between the ages of 25 and 64 choose to not attend their cervical screening test, previously known as a smear test.

Reasons include:

  • embarrassment about having a smear test
  • worry about the result of the test
  • concern that the procedure might be painful
  • appointment times not being inconvenient
  • women thinking they are not at risk
  • women being unaware of screening.

The groups of women who often don’t attend their appointments include:

  • younger eligible women aged 25 to 35
  • women over 50
  • ethnic minorities
  • people from lower socio-economic groups
  • women with learning disabilities
  • lesbian and bisexual women.

To break down these barriers to cervical screening it is important to understand what the screening is for and what to expect.

All women between the ages of 25 and 64 who are registered with a GP are invited for cervical screening. Women over 65 may also be invited if they have recently had abnormal test results or if they have never been for cervical screening. Trans men who still have a cervix and are still registered as female with a GP will also be invited for cervical screening. Trans men who are registered as male will need to let a GP or practice nurse know so they can organise the test.

Eligible people will receive a letter through the post asking them to make an appointment for a cervical screening test.

Katie said: “Cervical screening isn't a test for cancer. It's a test to check the health of the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the entrance to the womb from the vagina. Detecting and removing abnormal cervical cells can prevent cervical cancer. Most women's test results show that everything is normal but, for around one in 20 women, the test shows some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.”

It's possible for sexually active women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, although the condition is most common in women aged 30 to 45. The condition is very rare in women under 25.

Screening is usually carried out by the practice nurse at the GP clinic. Women can ask to have a female doctor or nurse. The cervical screening test usually takes around five minutes.

Some women find the procedure a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing but, for most women, it isn't painful.

To read about what happens during cervical screening and for tips on feeling more comfortable, visit nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-screening/ and jostrust.org.uk/about-cervical-cancer/cervical-screening/what-happens-during-cervical-screening.