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Younger women urged not to miss cervical screening

Author: Neil Fearn  Bullet  Dated: 13/06/2013

A third of women aged 25 to 29 ignore or delay their cervical screening invitation, despite cervical cancer being the most common cancer amongst under-35 year olds in the UK.

The highest incidence of cervical cancer occurs in women aged between 30 and 39, with the under-35s most likely to be affected. The number of women affected by cervical cancer falls steadily after the age of 40, although there is a slight increase in women who are over 70.

The importance of cervical screening for younger women

Cervical cancer can be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) which is spread through sexual intercourse. Although around 4 out of 5 women will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives, for most this will not result in cervical cancer.

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust director, Robert Music said: "It's absolutely paramount that women take up their first invitation as early stage cervical cancer, in the majority of cases, is symptomless."

Every day 9 women in the UK are told they have got cervical cancer, and of these 3 will die from the disease. All women aged between 25 and 49 are invited for free NHS cervical screening every 3 years. It is estimated that cervical screening saves 5,000 lives every year.

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is leading on Cervical Screening Awareness Week (9 - 15 June 2013) to urge women to have regular screening. It is concerned that the low uptake could lead to an increase in cervical cancer rates.

Raising awareness of cervical screening

Robert Music also believes more needs to be done to raise awareness: "People have very busy lives. There's got to be more investment in targeted work to encourage uptake. It's about using a medium that this young age group will respond to like social media or texting."

"It's essential the message gets out there to tell people what screening is for and how important it is."

Being screened regularly means that any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and treated to stop cancer developing. A smear test is not a test for cancer - it is a test to check the health of the cells of the cervix. Most test results show that everything is normal, but for 1 in 20 women the test will show some abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

Most of these changes will not lead to cervical cancer and the cells may go back to normal on their own. However, in some cases, the abnormal cells need to be treated to prevent them becoming cancerous.

Lowering the age for cervical screening

After the death of Jade Goody the Government came under pressure to lower the screening age for cervical cancer to 20, but their responses was: "Lowering the age could cause too many false positive results leading to unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment." The also highlighted Government’s Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening's conclusion that 25 was the tipping point at which the benefits of screening outweighed the risks.

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