A THIRD of Lothian women are putting their lives at risk by failing to attend cervical screening, new figures have revealed.
Screening is offered to women aged between 20 and 60 in Scotland every three years, and provides the best chance of spotting abnormalities early, which can develop into cervical cancer.
But more than 81,300 women in Lothian failed to attend a screening in the three-and-a-half years up to March, with just 67.9 per cent attending an appointment, according to ISD Scotland.
The figures sit below the national average of 70.4 per cent, making Lothian the second worst for attendance in Scotland after Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Charities have warned that diagnoses could soar if screening rates do not improve.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “It is very concerning that cervical screening uptake in Lothian has dropped by over ten per cent in ten years.
“The cervical screening programme saves around 5000 lives in the UK annually so we appeal for all those living in the Lothian area and across Scotland to attend screening as soon as they are invited.”
Cervical cancer is the 12th most common cancer in Scottish women, accounting for around two per cent of cases.
Despite awareness campaigns and the high-profile death of Big Brother contestant Jade Goody in 2009, uptake has fallen across Scotland in every age group, except 20 to 24-year-olds.
Mr Music called for targeted campaigning ahead of a plans to raise the age bracket to 25 to 64 in April, after a review found cancer rates among women under 25 were extremely low.
Mr Music said: “We urgently need to see targeted campaigns launched to communicate the test’s importance and relevance to each age group as well as address any confusion. There is a very real risk that if nothing is done we may see numbers diagnosed with cervical cancer increase even further.”
If screening rates increased to 85 per cent then the number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer would drop by more than a fifth, he said.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “There have been high-profile cases surrounding cervical cancer in recent years, but it seems we need to do more to improve awareness.
“Perhaps enabling screenings to take place later at night and at weekends would make it easier for some people to attend these.”
Professor Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian, said: “We have been targeting certain groups to shift the pattern of attendance and therefore our uptake rates are lower in the 20-25 group and higher in the 40+ age group.”