Suffolk: Concern as the number of women attending cervical screening tests hits a 10-year low
HEALTH chiefs have expressed concern after figures revealed the number of women attending cervical screening tests in Suffolk has hit a 10-year low.
The average proportion of women screened in the county has dropped 3% to 78.1% over the last decade, according to statistics from NHS Suffolk.
Cancer Research UK figures show around 1,000 women in the UK still die of cervical cancer each year.
But the gradual decline in screening means more than one-in-five women between the ages of 25 and 64 - and one-in-three aged under 35 - are rejecting the chance to prevent the disease from developing.
Suffolk’s deputy director public health, Amanda Jones, described the downward trend as “very worrying”.
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West Suffolk mum, Jenny Compson, whose 33-year-old daughter Katie died from cervical cancer last year, has also warned women to take the test more seriously.
According to Government guidelines, women aged between 25 and 50 should be tested every three years, while those between 50 and 64 are advised to attend testing every five years.
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But research conducted by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust suggests many women do not feel the test is relevant to them, largely due to lack of awareness about the causes, symptoms and ways to prevent the disease.
Dr Jones said: “In Suffolk, we have seen decreasing uptake of smears, which is a very big worry for us. The cervical screening program has been a national initiative since the 1980s so most people are aware of it, but the fact that fewer people are coming forward suggests they are not aware of how important it is.
“Most cases of cervical cancer are linked to the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which causes pre-cancerous changes in cells. If you catch these in the early stages you can treat them to prevent them turning to cancer.”
Around four out of five people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. It is estimated that early detection and treatment through cervical screening could prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers from developing.
Despite the downward trend in smear testing, Dr Jones said the uptake of a vaccine which can guard against HPV had been encouraging in Suffolk, with figures at the end of July showing 92.6% of girls having all three vaccines. This is almost a 1% increase on last year’s uptake and is among the highest in the UK.
She added: “By having the vaccine, we are in no way suggesting the women are going to have sex with lots of partners. Because of the way HPV is passed on, you only have to have sex once with someone who has been with one other person who has the HPV virus for you to catch it. You can see the potential risk points there are for people having sex for the first time.”
She concluded: “We would like to see the uptake of the vaccine increase even further in the hope that we could eventually see cases of cervical cancer reducing to virtually zero.”
LAWYER Katie Compson could have benefited from more frequent screening for cervical cancer following treatment for abnormal cells, according to her mother Jenny, who lives in Bulmer near Sudbury.
Katie, who worked in Tokyo and Hong Kong, received preliminary treatment about six years ago, and was subsequently screened annually. However, Jenny said: “Doctors then suggested she went back to having a test every three years, but this wasn’t frequent enough and by the time they detected her cancer, it was at an advanced stage.”
Despite undergoing extensive surgery, chemotherapy and being placed on two trial treatments, three months after being given the all-clear, Katie’s tumour returned and she died last November, aged just 33.
Jenny added: “Katie’s death has left her sister Sarah and the whole family completely devastated and I believe that if she had been screened again sooner, she might have stood a chance.
“Women know their own bodies best and I would urge all Suffolk women to attend regular testing and push for more frequent tests if they are in any doubt.”
Katie was keen to help others suffering from the disease and her family is in the process of setting up a foundation in her name. So far, more than �25,000 has been raised in memory of Katie for the Royal Marsden (Hospital) Cancer Charity, where she received treatment.
Friends of the Compsons are also organising a coffee morning at Angela of Long Melford on September 29 in memory of Katie, and to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.