On the Politics Show, Sunday, 22 February 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed National Cancer Director, Professor Mike Richards.
JON SOPEL: The man in charge of England's national cancer strategy is Mike Richards, he's with us in the studio. Welcome to the Politics Show. Thanks very much indeed for being with us. It looks like she [Jade Goody] only has months to live. How much attention has she drawn to the whole issue of cervical cancer and what you do about it.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: I think she's drawn an immense amount of attention, and obviously, my heart goes out to her, in the situation that she is in but I do believe the awareness of cervical cancer that she is raising through this could be beneficial to many others.
JON SOPEL: Have you got evidence yet, that there are many more people or whatever, or is it anecdotal at this stage.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: At this stage it's anecdotal. We get our figures once a year and that comes round in October. That's when we will have the formal figures on what the up-take of our screening is. We know that just under 80%, 78.6% of women who are invited for screening, have been for screening at least once in the previous five years. We would like to see that number higher and particularly high in the age range twenty five to thirty five. That's where the numbers have been falling a bit in recent years.
JON SOPEL: I don't want to put words in your mouth, but are you almost saying that Jade Goodey's plight could be saving lives.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: Well, I think, I'd again say what I did about Jade a few seconds ago, that I'm very, very sorry for her as an individual, but this awareness could save other people's lives, yes.
JON SOPEL: How big a problem is it in that age group. Is she incredibly unlucky to have cervical cancer at this age.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: She is incredibly unlucky to have cervical cancer at her age but it does occur. Cervical cancer is one of those cancers that can occur roughly speaking from - of any age. It's very, very unusual below the age of twenty five. But from that age onwards, it does occur. But the good news about cervical cancer is that we can pick it up, even before it becomes a cancer and that's why screening is so important.
JON SOPEL: Well, you talk about screening. I think I'm right in saying that in England, it's twenty five plus that the screening programme takes place. Scotland and Wales, I think screening is five years earlier.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: Yes, it is. We based the starting age on the very best scientific evidence and both our expert advisors in England and indeed in the international association for research on cancer, they advice a starting age of twenty five, because there is a concern that screening under the age of twenty five, could actually cause more harm than it does good.
JON SOPEL: What do you mean by that.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: Well …. (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Have the Scottish and Welsh got it wrong.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: Well, we believe effectively yes, we are doing it in England because we believe this is the best age to be being doing it at and we believe that, or we take the advice of our scientists on this, that the, the harms that can happen, there are frequent abnormalities in younger women, they will then be sent on to hospital. They may have to have part of the cervix cut away from that and at that age, that can actually lead, for example, in the future, to more premature births. So one has to do a balancing act here and our advice is, that twenty five is the right age to start.
JON SOPEL: Do you think that there is a possibility that actually, the publicity that Jade Goody's case has brought, actually starts shaping what is government policy because it's received, you know, so much attention is being paid.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: I think that on screening, our policy is absolutely driven by the evidence. We have evidence that cervical screening saves around four and a half thousand lives each year. We have evidence that we have been able to improve the screening programme by introducing new technology. We have a great deal of evidence and we are driven by the evidence on that, of what will benefit people in this country.
JON SOPEL: I also know that you've got a vaccination programme for younger, teenage girls. Where are you on that, and how far is that being rolled out - it's the younger age group at the moment isn't it.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: We're starting with twelve and thirteen year olds and then we're going on to vaccinate people up to the age of eighteen, because that again, is where the evidence is that if we vaccinate them at that age, we would prevent cervical cancer in people in their twenties, thirties and even later on as well. So we believe this is an extra measure we can take to reduce the burden of cervical cancer.
JON SOPEL: So realistically, every girl under eighteen will be offered …
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: Yes.
JON SOPEL: When do you think that will be done by?
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: It's over the next couple of years.
JON SOPEL: Right. Okay. And let me just ask you something else. The story in the Observer today, talking about how cancer deaths are set to double in the next forty years because of the rise in obesity. And kind of, here you are, one would hope that when we're interviewing you, you're telling us that cancer deaths are going to fall. Do you think these statistics are wild?
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: First of all cancer deaths are falling and that's very good news. Quite a lot of that is because of the action that we've taken on smoking, where smoking has been the major cause of premature death from cancer, up till now. But we do know now, that obesity is another major factor for cancer and the evidence on that has got a lot stronger over the last few years and the report that is in the Observer comes from a very reputable source today. What we've got to do is get across to the public the importance of action against obesity. First of all we've got to raise their awareness of the problem, then we've got to get them frankly, taking more exercise.
JON SOPEL: Okay. Professor Mike Richards. Thanks ever so much for being with us today. Thank you.
PROFESSOR MIKE RICHARDS: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW .
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The Politics Show Sunday 22 February 2009 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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