NHS data shows drop in cervical cancer screening attendance

In collaboration with the Press Association

Less than three quarters of eligible women are attending cervical cancer screening appointments in England, according to new figures.

As of March 2017, 72% of eligible women were screened within the recommended timeframe, compared to 75.7% in 2011. 

Sophia Lowes, Cancer Research UK’s health information officer, said the figures were disappointing. 

Cervical screening aims pick up abnormal cells before cancer has a chance to develop so we’d encourage women to think about taking part when they receive their invitation,” she said.

The figures come as new research published today by Cancer Research UK shows that women may only need three cervical screens in their lifetime if they’re given the human papillomavirus vaccine. 

The NHS screening programme is available to women between 25 and 64 years old in England. Up to age 49 women receive invitations every 3 years, and after 50 women receive invitations every 5 years.

The differences in screening frequency are based on age-specific risk of cervical cancer.

The figures from NHS Digital show that attendance is at its lowest since 2011 for both older and younger women.

In 2011 80.1% of older women were screened, compared to 77.2% in March 2017. The figures were lower for younger women with 73.7% screened in 2011 compared to 69.6% in 2017. 

In 2016-17 nearly 4.5 million women were invited for screening, and nearly 3.2 women were tested.

Cervical screening is estimated to save over 2,000 lives every year in the UK. Lowes said changes to the cervical screening programme could help save even more lives in the future. 

“There are exciting opportunities ahead for the programme, such as the switch to HPV primary testing, and the fact that young women are now vaccinated against the main types of HPV which cause cervical cancer,” she said.

Public Health England (PHE) has appealed to young women to take up their cervical screening invitation.

PHE director of screening, Professor Anne Mackie, said it’s concerning that fewer women are being screened, with over a third of women under 30 not taking the test.

"If women are embarrassed about having the test or worried about what the test results might say, they should talk to their GP who can explain why the test is important," she said.