Young women not getting regular cancer checks.

SUFFOLK: Health professionals have voiced concerns that not enough young women in Suffolk are going for regular smear tests.

The most recent statistics from 2007/08 and 2008/09 show that around 80% of women aged between 25 and 64 in Suffolk were attending cervical cancer screenings and although this hits the national target, there are concerns that more younger women are not attending than previous years.

Speaking during this week’s Cervical Cancer Awareness week, Hossein Khaled, screening and health protection lead at NHS Suffolk, said: “While that [80%] is good and in many cases, better than other areas, we still have small number of people who do not respond to an invitation of screening. Take up of screening has tended to drop off nationally among 25 to 34 year olds. We have looked at this and tried to analyse what might be going on. We are thinking all the time about how we can increase the take up of cervical cancer screenings particularly among young people. Some young women are not used to attending GP surgeries and often it is to do with patient perception.”

All women between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible for a free cervical screening test every three to five years and will receive a letter from their doctor about attending an appointment.

When Jade Goody was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer in February last year, the West Anglia Cytology Laboratory’s workload almost doubled. On top of that, the lab, which co-ordinates cervical cancer screening for women in the Addenbrooke’s, West Suffolk and Hinchingbrooke catchments, was earmarked for a Department of Health pilot scheme to get test results to women within two weeks. Previous waiting times could be up to six weeks so reducing this by four weeks means less anxiety for women.

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Roseanna Bignell, who leads the lab team, said: “Our biggest challenge is that we know the system works but we need to make sure the women are attending. We need to get women aged 25 and 34 through the door.

“It was difficult to say before that it is really important you attend but you have to wait six weeks for results.”

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Mr Khaled added: “We always need to do more because in theory, 100% of women have been invited. The main message is, if you get a letter for screening, please please do attend because this is all about identifying diseases and illnesses at an early stage and then we can do something about it.”

Dr Andrew Hassan, medical director of NHS Suffolk, said: “It is important we are aware that young women are not presenting for cervical screening as much as we would like. It is a challenge to keep the level of screening up to the optimum.”

He said that previously around 10% of samples taken were considered inadequate and required another test, but since the introduction of the cytology clinic’s pilot, this is down to 2%.

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