A CALL for action has been made for eligible Barnsley women to attend potentially lifesaving cervical cancer screening appointments – after it was revealed thousands are still choosing to skip check-ups despite pleas from health leaders.
Screenings, also known as ‘smear tests’, are offered to women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 49 every three years, while those aged 50 to 64 receive their invitations every five years.
But figures show women are still regularly skipping the straightforward procedures, with fear, embarrassment or a lack of understanding of what they involve among the reasons why, according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
Rates varied slightly between the age groups last year – 77.1 per cent of eligible 50 to 64 year olds had been screened as of the end of December, compared to 75.7 per cent of 25 to 49 year olds, according to NHS Digital data.
Cervical cancer is the fourth-most common cancer in women and screening involves taking a small sample of cells before they are checked for pre-cancerous abnormalities.
Barnsley East MP, Stephanie Peacock, recently showed her support for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week drive.
She said: “The trust is calling on the government to commit to eliminating this disease entirely, including tackling inequalities and investing in more effective ways of preventing cancer.
“I am proud to support Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s campaign to eliminate cervical cancer.
“Though this form of cancer is largely preventable through regular cervical screening and HPV vaccination, one in three women do not attend their screening when they are contacted, whilst HPV vaccination levels are still lower than they were before the Covid-19 pandemic. The government must commit to supporting this important cause, and encouraging better public awareness to dispel misinformation around cervical cancer and screening.
“If you are contacted to attend a screening, please make sure you book an appointment as soon as possible.”
An ‘alarming’ decline in HPV vaccine uptake rates also features in the charity’s awareness drive, after figures revealed a fall of more than ten per cent of girls in years eight and nine being jabbed over a three-year period from 2018/19.
Samantha Dixon, chief executive of the charity, added: “There is no one reason behind falling cervical screening attendance, instead a wide range of factors exist.
“These include NHS pressures, fear, embarrassment and not knowing what the test is for or thinking it is relevant.
“More education about the HPV vaccine, and how it can protect against cervical cancer, could help reduce hesitancy and tackle barriers to uptake.
“This – combined with cervical screening – gives us the opportunity to prevent many cases of cervical cancer and save many lives.”
Andrea Parkin, head of nursing at Barnsley Healthcare Federation, backed the calls for more women to attend – but confirmed rates are improving locally with the town now ranked 20th out of 333 national local authorities.“Cervical screening is a free health test available on the NHS as part of the national cervical screening programme.
“Being screened regularly means that any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing. It’s important that women attend screening appointments – in Barnsley our aim is to make appointments more accessible for all women.”