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Doctors urge women to say yes to regular smear tests

This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22nd – 28th January) which aims to remind people that cervical cancer can kill, yet regular screening helps save thousands of lives every year.

Women in England and Wales aged between 25 and 64 years-old are invited to cervical screening, also known as a smear test, every three to five years.

Darwen GP and Clinical Chief Officer at NHS Blackburn with Darwen Clinical Commissioning Group, Dr Chris Clayton, said: “Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. Screening prevents cancer by detecting early abnormalities in the cervix, so they can be treated. If these abnormalities are left untreated they can lead to cancer of the cervix (the neck of the womb). We know that on average cervical screening helps save the lives of approximately 4,500 women in England every year1.”

On average, around eight women are diagnosed every day in the UK with cervical cancer with more than two women dying as a result every day2. It is the most common cancer in women aged 35 and under. Despite this, more than 20 per cent of women invited for screening do not attend. Cervical screening can prevent around 45% of cervical cancer cases in women in their 30s, rising with age to 75 per cent in women in their 50s and 60s, who attend regularly.

Cervical cancer is not thought to be hereditary. In 99.7% of cases, cervical cancers are caused by persistent infections with a virus called high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV)2.

Since 2008, girls aged 12 and 13 have been offered a vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) through school. Although the vaccine can prevent over 70% of cervical cancers it doesn't protect against all of them so screening is still vitally important once screening age is reached.

Dr Phil Huxley, Chair of East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “As well as attending for screening when you are invited, other signs to look out for include any abnormal bleeding or unpleasant discharge or pain after sex. If you notice anything unusual, make an appointment to see your doctor and get it checked out.

“Cervical screening only takes a matter of minutes and is mainly carried out by practice nurses. You can bring a relative or friend with you and you can request a female nurse or GP to take the sample. As with all cancers, the earlier a problem is spotted, the better the patient’s outcome. Screening saves lives, and we are committed to helping and encouraging all women to access this vital service.”