Latest figures show that more than 25 per cent of women eligible for cervical screening in Lothian failed to take up their invitation last year. This marks an increase of one per cent on the previous year and the continuation of a worrying upward trend.
Regular cervical screening is designed to detect abnormal cells that could turn into cancer if left untreated. Even delaying for a few months could be putting lives at risk. More than 300 Scottish women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. We know that there are several barriers to attending screening from realising the test’s relevance and general lack of awareness to fear or embarrassment of the procedure.
Women may also find it difficult to get time off work or book an appointment at a convenient time.
A 2014 survey commissioned by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust showed that almost a third (30 per cent) of women in Scotland do not know what causes cervical cancer and only 16 per cent recognised non-attendance of cervical screening as a risk factor for developing the disease.
More than one in ten (13 per cent) worried a smear test would be painful and the same number thought it would be embarrassing. 16 per cent cited they had had a previous bad experience. Further research from the charity has shown that UK women aged 25-29 on average delay screening for 15 months whilst those aged 60-64 delay for 33 months.
In Scotland women are screened until age 60 but this will increase to 64 in 2016 and then we must ensure this concerning pattern of delay is not repeated. Even more worrying is that since 2000 there has been a 50 per cent rise in diagnoses amongst 25-29 year olds and a 71 per cent increase in deaths in women aged 55-59 in Scotland.
A cervical cancer diagnosis can be utterly devastating and a delayed diagnosis could result in a more advanced stage of cancer, more invasive treatments, a poorer quality of life and ultimately a lower chance of survival. By attending screening a woman not only increases her chance of the disease being found sooner but crucially can prevent it from ever being present in the first place. We urge every woman to attend their cervical screening when called, it takes five minutes and could, quite simply, save your life.
For advice and information or if you are worried about anything to do with a cervical screening visit www.jostrust.org.uk or call their helpline 0808 802 8000.
Robert Music is chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust