Page last updated at 07:27 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Cervical cancer deprivation link

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

Cervical cancer is more common among women living in the most deprived areas of England than their affluent counterparts, research shows.

Data from the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) found diagnosis levels were twice as high in deprived areas.

Experts believe lower uptake of cervical screening in deprived areas is probably key.

It is hoped a new vaccine programme could cut cervical cancers sharply.

It's extremely worrying that your income and where you live can have such a significant effect on your risk of cancer
Sara Hiom
Cancer Research UK

The NCIN analysis, based on more than 25,000 cases of cervical cancer, found that in the most deprived areas 12 women per 100,000 were diagnosed with the disease between 2000 and 2004.

In contrast, in the most affluent areas only six per 100,000 women were diagnosed in the same time period.

The most deprived areas included Newcastle and Liverpool, while the most affluent included parts of Surrey and the south coast.

Lead researcher Professor David Forman, from the University of Leeds, said: "These striking figures show there is still much more that needs to be done to tackle cancer in low-income communities.

"Cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease - the national screening programme will pick up most cases before they even develop into cancer.

"Our figures suggest that women living in poorer areas are less likely to attend cervical screening than women who are better-off, so they are more likely to develop the disease."

Professor Forman said other factors such as higher rates of smoking, and earlier onset of sexual activity might also contribute to raised cervical cancer rates in deprived areas.

Screening invitations

Currently, women in England aged 25 to 64 are invited for cervical screening every three to five years.

In 2006, around 20% per cent of women in England invited for cervical screening did not attend.

But previous research has shown that in deprived areas the absentee rate is closer to 40%.

Screening can pick up on important changes to cells before cervical cancer develops.

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: "It's extremely worrying that your income and where you live can have such a significant effect on your risk of cancer.

"It's clear that much more needs to be done to encourage women from low-income communities to attend cervical screening."

Professor Julietta Patnick director of NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said in recent years there had been a downward trend in women taking up cervical screening invitations, especially among younger women and those in deprived inner city areas.

She said: "Cervical screening saves around 4,500 lives a year, and it is important for women to consider this when deciding whether or not to accept their invitation."

Professor Mike Richards, the government's cancer tsar, said a key policy aim was to reduce inequalities in cancer care.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV).

A vaccination programme to protect schoolgirls against two key strains of HPV was recently introduced across the UK.

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