I attended a parliamentary event hosted by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, where declining year on year rates of cervical screening were discussed.
I believe that greater measures need to be taken to help prevent cervical cancer, including strategies to prevent continuously declining rates of uptake for cervical screening, and continued promotion of HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination amongst teenage girls.
Eight women each day in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer, with three women losing their lives to the disease. The latest figures on cervical screening (smear test) uptake in England, published in November 2014 by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), showed that the numbers of women taking up their cervical screening invitation has dropped, resulting in over one million women missing out on a potentially lifesaving test in 2013/14. The statistics showed that screening uptake has fallen below 78% for the first time in over 20 years.
This is an incredibly concerning development, and is of particular concern for two key age groups. For women aged 25-29 who are screened every three and a half years, 36.7% did not attend screening – this means over one in three young women are potentially ignoring their first screening invitation. For those aged 50-64 invited every five years, 77% (a drop of 0.5% on last year) attended screening. Particularly worrying is the uptake for the 55-59 age group (74.8%) and 60-64 age group (73.2%).
HPV vaccination offers protection against the high risk strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancers. The latest figures from Public Health England showed that 28,000 girls aged 12-13 chose not to receive any of the three doses of the vaccine required for the best protection possible. Although the fact that the vaccine can now be given in two doses should increase uptake, it is important that girls understand that cervical screening will continue to be essential, as the vaccine only protects against 70% of cervical cancers.
In Lancashire, 63.3% of 25-29 year olds attended cervical screening within the last 3 years (in line with the national average of 63.3%). For 50-64 year olds, who are screened every five years, 76.1% attended their appointment (with 77% being the national average). In total, 22.9% of women aged 25-64 have not been screened within the last five years.
For HPV vaccination uptake, 92.1% of 12-13 year olds had at least one dose, with 91.2% receiving two doses and 89.6% receiving all three. The national average for England for all doses is 91.1%, 89.7% and 86.7% respectively. Optimum protection against the high risk strains of HPV is only achieved through receiving all of the suggested doses, which was three at the time covered by these figures. The vaccine is now available in two doses, which should increase overall uptake.
Cervical cancer and its prevention is an important issue which directly impacts on the lives of many women and their families in Haslingden and Hyndburn. I was concerned when I heard about the worrying figures for cervical screening uptake and that there are still girls choosing not to have the HPV vaccine.
I have challenged NHS England, and Lancashire NHS Area Team in particular, which is responsible for screening and immunisation in the constituency, to develop an action plan to ensure that women and girls are aware of the symptoms and impact of cervical cancer and to increase uptake of cervical screening and HPV vaccination. I fully welcome the actions of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust in their work to help prevent cervical cancer, and I am asking everyone to join them in the fight to eradicate this disease.