Page last updated at 07:54 GMT, Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Jade Goody effect on screening

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Jade and Jack Tweed.Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Jade Goody married fiance Jack Tweed shortly before death

Jade Goody's decision to share her fight against cancer so publicly has proved controversial - but there is no doubt it has had a tremendous impact.

Some have expressed concern that her struggles with the cervical cancer that claimed her life should not have been made so public.

But many others have praised Jade for her courage, saying her actions will have saved many lives.

Cancer screening experts are reporting a massive surge in the number of young women coming forward for screening - some for their very first test.

It brings death out of taboo so that we can now talk about it ourselves
Professor Karol Sikora

Julietta Patnick, director of NHS screening programmes, said some laboratories are reporting a 20% increase in cases, others as much as 50%.

She said it was difficult to quantify exactly how many women had come forward, and it was true that some did not need a test, and were just clogging up the system.

"But given the numbers reported we also all believe there are some women there who have either never been screened or have not been screened as frequently as we would recommend."

Ms Patnick said over the past decade the number of women coming forward for screenings had been falling - the Jade effect seems to be reversing that.

"What we have seen over the last decade is a fall in acceptance of screening and it is particularly bad in the women under 25-35 age group," she said.

"Jade, at 27, is absolutely in that hard to reach age group."

Ministers in England have also instigated a review of the age at which screening starts.

Women are currently not called until they are 25, but calls for checks to begin at 20 - as they do in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - have been renewed since Jade's case hit the headlines.

Vaccine help

She said that as well as catching women with cervical cancer the ripple effect of Jade's battle might be to encourage parents to get their teenage daughters vaccinated against HPV human papillomavirus - a risk factor for cervical cancer.

Professor Karol Sikora, medical director of Cancer Partners UK agreed, saying her honesty about her cancer had encouraged others to get screened.

"My wife is a primary care nurse and does cervical smears as part of her job and she says that she has never had so many people ask for a screening before," he said.

"All the official returns show the same thing.

A screening. Pic caption: Mark Thomas/SPL
Women are urged to have regular smears

"It is rare for a young person to do what she has done, and I think it is very positive.

"We are very good at telling people now that they have cancer, we have overcome that.

"We are not so good at telling them what it really means to them and we are very bad at giving people the real truth about their prognosis.

"This is the first time that I have seen it portrayed like this in the media - it brings death out of taboo so that we can now talk about it ourselves."

Professor Sikora said out of the 3,000 cases of cervical cancer each year in the UK two thirds would be cured - and stressed that early treatment improves prognosis.

"Cervical screening it is a very successful programme because screening is not just picking up early cancer, it is also picking up the pre-cancerous cells."

Target groups

He said Jade had a particular appeal to the hard-to-reach lower socioeconomic groups.

"What is interesting is that if you look at the number of people who take up the offers, it is on average 70%.

"If you break that down to socioeconomic groupings it is about 90% in class one - wealthy and educated people - and something like 50% in some geographical areas of Britain where there are predominantly people living in deprivation with poor education," he said.

"What Jade's story does is get to groups you can not get to with other methods.

"Putting out a leaflet or an advert on TV just does not work.

"She appeals to socioeconomic groups four and five, people who read the tabloids rather than the broadsheets."

Signs and symptoms
Bleeding between periods or after sex, or new bleeding after the menopause
Unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge
Discomfort/pain during intercourse

Dr Jo Waller, a psychologist based at University College London, said the general public, particularly women in the target 25-35 age group, identified strongly with Jade.

"It may be because she is so young," she said.

"She is ordinary and somebody people can identify with, having come up through the reality route rather than being someone from a very privileged background people.

"Because she is so much in the public eye and people read so much about her that they feel that they know her.

"And because she is so public you are getting an insight into her cancer that you would not usually expect to get. That is making people identify more than if she withdrew from public life.

"The image of her in a wheelchair and with no hair is not something you usually see and I can't remember this from any other celebrities.

"Jade has brought cervical cancer into the public consciousness."

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