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Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 13:35 GMT
Regular smears for eight in ten women
More than four million smears were screened
More than eight out of ten women aged between 25 and 64 have been screened for cervical cancer at least once in the past five years.

New government figures confirm that 84% of women in England have had a regular smear as part of the national screening programme,

The figures have been roughly the same every year for the last five years, with up to 16% of women not having a smear at least once every five years as recommended.

In the past year 3.8 million women have been screened and labs have processed 4.3 million smears.

The vast majority of health authorities - 86 out of 99 - are screening more than 80% of women in their area.

But two health authorities in England only managed to screen less than 70% of women who should have had a smear.

Reduction in deaths

Annie Angle, senior information nurse at the Cancer Research Campaign says the 16% who are not being screened are the hardest group to target.

"It may be that they are not attending for screening for reasons that are to do with religion or ethnic origin.

"Steps that can be taken to target these women might include ensuring they have a female doing the screening, or that they are accompanied by a woman, or have help to overcome language problems," she told BBC News Online.

Dr Peter Sasieni, senior epidemiologist at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, believes the screening programme led to 6000 fewer deaths between 1991 and 1997.

Without screening, we would be seeing an epidemic of cervical cancer in young women

Dr Peter Sasieni, Imperial Cancer Research Fund

He estimates that by 2025, the screening programme could prevent 5000 cancers a year.

"Without screening, we would be seeing an epidemic of cervical cancer in young women," Dr Sasieni warned.

A common virus, human papilloma virus (HPV), spread through sexual intercourse, causes cervical cancer and women in their 20s and 30s are more at risk because it is now more common for them to have had several sexual partners.

"It is imperative that they are encouraged to go for regular screening in order to prevent a dramatic increase in cervical cancer over the next 30 years," Dr Sasieni added.

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See also:

17 Mar 00 | C-D
Cervical and Uterine Cancers
06 Jun 00 | Scotland
Cervical screening shake-up
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