Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Cash to boost cervical screening

cervical cancer
Screening can check for early cell changes that suggest cancer

The NHS is launching a 250,000 scheme to tackle falling numbers of young women in England being screened for cervical cancer.

The announcement comes as a report shows screening rates have declined across the country in the last decade, particularly among women under 35.

The sharpest drop, by 12.6%, was in the number of women aged 25-29 being screened, which now stands at 66.2%.

Apathy is believed to be one of the reasons for the decline.


The number of women aged 30-34 who had been screened in the past five years has also fallen - from 83.5% to 76.8% since 1998, according to the NHS Information Centre.

Cervical screening saves lives so it's a big worry if young women start to miss their smear tests
Dr Anne Szarewski of Cancer Research UK

The number of deaths from cervical cancer has risen to 413 among women aged 25-64 in 2007, up from 388 in 2006.

This means the death rate from cervical cancer among these women is at its highest since 2001.

This was despite the number of women invited (aged 25-64) rising from 4.01m to 4.18m in the last year, an increase of 4.3%.

Improving uptake

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We are aware that coverage rates are declining across the country, particularly in young women.

"To tackle this, NHS Cancer Screening Programmes have commissioned the Improvement Foundation to undertake a project to look into ways in which cervical screening uptake can be improved in women aged under 35."

The NHSCSP and Improvement Foundation have identified 10 primary care trusts to work with.

Lessons learned from this project will be shared across the whole programme by the end of 2009.

If overall coverage of 80% can be achieved, the NHS predicts that a 95% reduction in death rates is possible in the long term.

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Sandra Gidley said: "There are early warning signs in these new figures that suggest the number of deaths is rising.

"Trusts must make strenuous efforts to ensure their screening programmes reach as many women as possible.

"The government must pay more attention to screening or, quite simply, even more women will die unnecessarily."

Dr Anne Szarewski of Cancer Research UK said: "Cervical screening saves lives so it's a big worry if young women start to miss their smear tests. The peak age for cervical cancer to strike is while women are in their late-30s, but it can occur earlier.

"We're not sure exactly why there's been a drop in the numbers of women attending screening but these figures highlight just how important it is that all women - including those who will receive the HPV vaccine - are aware of cervical screening and attend when they receive their invitations."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "We already have one of the worst survival rates in Europe for cervical cancer. The decline in screening rates is unacceptable and needs to be reversed."

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