HALF of young women in the Lothians are rejecting the chance to have a potentially lifesaving cancer check, figures have shown.
Thousands of women aged between 20 and 24 snubbed the invitation for a smear test in 2011, a drop on previous years and a notably worse statistic than the Scottish average.
It compares sharply to ladies in their mid-40s, the overwhelming proportion of whom accept the screening for cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers in women.
The figure is particularly frustrating for health chiefs as the cancer is highly treatable but only if it is caught early, with a smear test providing the best opportunity for this.
The details released today by NHS Lothian also cast doubt on the “Jade Goody effect” – the death of the reality television star from cervical cancer had been expected to spark a rise in checks, particularly amongst younger women.
The health board’s medical director Dr David Farquharson said: “Women aged less than 35 years have lower uptake rates for a range of reasons, including confusion about the overall health message in relation to cervical screening.”
And while bosses are confident that women will eventually come round to the idea as they approach their 30s, meaning they will receive at least one check, the picture for those in deprived areas is more grim.
The data shows that uptake in the city’s poorest areas, including Wester Hailes, Niddrie and Muirhouse, is around 58 per cent for women of all ages. However, in more affluent zones such as Barnton and Morningside the rate is significantly better at around 80 per cent.
As a result, GP practices in the Capital’s areas of deprivation have been asked by bosses to note which women fail to show for their appointment, with the long-term goal of addressing the reasons why.
The “action plan” would see personal contact being made with each woman, similar to a scheme rolled out for refusal to attend breast cancer checks.
Dr Farquharson added: “There is also a review of the national screening programme by the Scottish Government concerning the age range for screening and the frequency of screening over the age of 50.”
NHS Lothian has made moves to improve screening in the past, including opening clinics later and at weekends to accommodate busy lives.
But a senior health board source said: “Other than continue pushing the message, there isn’t much more can be done. It’s an intimidating thing to consider, especially for younger women having it for the first time, compared to older women who have been through childbirth, having less reservations as a result.”
‘You think the worst’
SHARON Watt knows all about the benefit of treating cervical cancer early.
The 30-year-old was diagnosed with the disease in 2007. She has since been treated successfully, but warned of the importance of getting checked.
The Tranent woman said: “When you hear the word cancer you automatically think the worst.
“I know so many people, some much older than me, who have told me they’ve never been for a smear. I’ve persuaded all my friends to go and get checked.”