Deprived communities face higher risk of cervical cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Women living in England's more deprived areas have a higher chance of developing cervical cancer and of dying from the disease, a study has confirmed.

The annual report from the Trent Cancer Registry (pdf) found that cervical cancer incidence and death rates are higher among women living in low-income areas.

Cervical cancer incidence has decreased by a third over the last two decades and deaths from the disease have more than halved, according to the study produced on behalf of National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) in collaboration with the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.

There was a marked spike in the incidence of cervical cancer between 2008 and 2009, likely attributable to the increase in the number of women seeking screening after the high-profile diagnosis and death of reality TV star Jade Goody.

In 2009, 3,378 women in the UK were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and in 2010 there were 936 deaths from cervical cancer in the country.

Since then, death rates for women aged 20-24 and 30-39 have remained stable. But there has been a rise in the number of deaths in women aged 25-29 - this age group has seen a steady dropping-off in screening uptake rates.

Researchers discovered that cervical cancer incidence and death rates were lowest in the south and east of England, and highest in the north and the Midlands.

The report draws attention to certain behavioural factors associated with socioeconomic deprivation, such as smoking and poorer uptake of cervical screening, which are known to be associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Jessica Harris, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "It's worrying that cervical cancer continues to be more common in women in more deprived areas.

"With HPV vaccination and a very effective cervical screening programme, there's a real chance that cervical cancer rates in the UK will fall further in the future.

"But this will only happen if uptake remains high, and the Government, charities and health organisations continue to work together to reduce inequalities in uptake of both HPV vaccination and cervical screening."

Professor Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said: "This study sheds useful light on cervical cancer trends in England. The overall downward trend in incidence and mortality rates are an encouraging reflection of the long-term benefits of screening, along with advances in treatment."

She added that the link between higher incidence and mortality rates and socioeconomic deprivation corroborated the findings of previous research, and underlined the need for health professionals to work with low-income communities to ensure women get themselves screened.

"Cervical screening saves lives and we strongly encourage all women to make the decision to attend screening appointments when invited," Professor Patnick said.

Copyright Press Association 2012