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Millions at risk of cervical cancer as women shun smear tests in record numbers

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MILLIONS of women still aren’t attending smear tests – putting themselves at risk of cervical cancer.

Around three million women across England haven’t had a test for over three years, experts warn.

Millions are missing their smears - putting them at massive risk of cervial cancer
Millions are missing their smears – putting them at massive risk of cervial cancer
Getty – Contributor

In some areas, up to half of women aged under 50 haven’t gone for a cervical screening in the recommended time.

A million women aged 50 to 64 haven’t had a smear test for at least five and a half years.

And that’s putting them at massive risk from cervical cancer because smear tests can pick up very early changes in cervical tissue.

The cancer is notoriously hard to pick up early but a smear test is your best chance of detecting issues before cancer is even on the cards.

Lowest testing rates for 20 years

Cervical cancer screening rates are at their lowest in two decades, health bosses say.

Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England, said along with leading charities and the NHS, PHE is “concerned about the fall in the number of women taking the test”.

About 72 per cent of women aged 25 to 65 have had their smear test within the recommended time period of three years.

That’s down from 75.4 per cent in 2012.

Prof Mackie told The Sun: “Currently 72 per cent of women have cervical screening and we’re working together to ensure that every woman knows what the test is about and to make it easy to attend screening appointments.”

Heightened risk of cancer

Samme Allen, from Kingston, had a bad experience at a smear test when she was 25 when the manner of the nurse was “the opposite of reassuring”.

It put her off having another test for 10 years, by which time she had developed cervical cancer.

Samme underwent operations to remove the cancer and has since been given the all clear, but it could have been a very different story.

“I worked overseas and regularly moved, so I always seemed to avoid thinking about it,” she told the BBC.

“I never had any symptoms for cervical cancer, and so didn’t feel I needed to go to the doctor.”

She said the test should be seen in the same way people go to the dentist for a check – you don’t want to but you should.

“Yes, it’s uncomfortable and no it’s not a pleasant experience, but my story shows how important it really is,” she added.

The NHS target is for 80 per cent of women aged 25 to 49 to be tested every three years.

After that women should be tested every five years up until the age of 64.

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Why are so many women missing their screening?

Many women are too embarrassed to get tested or simply put it off, experts say.

A survey of more than 2,000 women by charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found a third of young women were too embarrassed to go to their test because of their body shape, while a third were worried about the shape of their vulva and two fifths were worried about the smell.

Robert Music, chief executive of the Trust, told The Sun Online: “It’s really disappointing to see that so many women are not going for potentially life-saving cervical screening across the UK.

“There are lots of reasons why women don’t attend, varying across cultural, physical, psychological and literary factors.

“We also know access is a growing issue and more women are finding it harder to get appointments.

“Every woman is different, and will have her own individual barriers that she has to contend with.

“It’s really important we continue with national and local action to address these barriers and reverse this downward decline.”

Where are screening rates the lowest?

London has some of the lowest uptakes of smear tests in the country, NHS figures show.

In some boroughs just over half of women aged under 50 had kept up with regular testing.


FIND OUT MORE What happens at a smear test, does it tell me if I have cervical cancer and is it painful?


Public Health England (PHE) figures reveal about half of eligible 25 to 49-year-old women registered at GP practices in Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Camden and Hammersmith and Fulham had received adequate screening.

In other areas, Cambridge and Oxford had rates of 54 and 55 per cent respectively.

In Leicester it was 60 per cent, Luton as 61 per cent and Manchester, Slough, Haringey and Birmingham had rates of 62 per cent.

Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire was at the better end of the scale, with 80 per cent of eligible women having had the test in the past three-and-a-half years.

Cervical screening rates rose following the death or reality TV star Jade Goody in 2009, as more people became aware of cervical cancer, but numbers have fallen back.

Why it’s so important to get your smear test

Smear tests don’t test for cancer, but rather they detect abnormal cells on the cervix – the entrance to the womb.

These abnormal cells can indicate if a woman is at risk of developing cervical cancer, and so the test helps doctors spot the earliest signs of the disease.

It’s currently the most effective and reliable way of detecting cervical cancer, experts say.

By ensuring you take up the invitation to have smear tests regularly, you give yourself the best chance to avoid the disease.


Cervical screening tests can be carried out at a GP practice, a well woman clinic or a sexual health clinic.

It’s usually done by a nurse and you can ask for a female nurse.

You’re asked to remove your clothes from the waist down, and the nurse or doctor inserts a speculum, which holds the vaginal walls open.

Then, a small, gentle brush is used to collect cells from the surface of the cervix – and you will receive your results within two weeks.

The test can be uncomfortable, but for most women it isn’t painful.

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