New cervical cancer screening campaign – what can practices do to help?

Cervical cancer screening rates are at a 20-year low, says Public Health England. To encourage more women to get tested, it’s created a new campaign. We look at how practices can contribute, and play their part in increasing screening rates and saving lives

Every day two women die from cervical cancer, says Public Health England (PHE). Approximately 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year with 690 women dying from the disease. PHE estimates that if everyone attended screening regularly, 83% of cervical cancer cases could be prevented. It’s the reason why it has developed a new campaign ‘Cervical Screening Saves Lives’. Launched in March, it aims to increase the number of women attending for their cervical screening across England.

The campaign will encourage women to respond to their cervical screening invitation letter and, if they missed their last screening, to book an appointment at their GP practice. The campaign includes a range of new materials, including a new TV advert and is being run with the support of NHS England and charity partners, including Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Eve Appeal and Lady Garden.

The campaign comes at a time when new research from PHE shows that nearly all women eligible for screening (90%) would be likely to take a test that could help prevent cancer – and, of those who have attended screening, 9 in 10 (94%) would encourage others who are worried to attend their cervical screening. Despite this, screening is at a 20-year low, with 1-in-4 eligible women (those aged 25 to 64) in the UK not attending their test.

Screening is at a 20-year low, with 1-in-4 eligible women (those aged 25 to 64) in the UK not attending their test.

Campaign focus

PHE wants to stress to women that regular screening takes just a few minutes and, as evidence has shown, can support early diagnosis and treatment which can, in many cases, stop cervical cancer before it starts. PHE is keen to communicate the fact that the test doesn’t identify cancer – it identifies potentially harmful cells before they become cancerous, ensuring women can access the right treatment as soon as possible. Explaining that it is not a test for cancer itself should give reassurance to those women who may be fearful about their results.

The PHE research shows that once they have been screened, the vast majority of women feel positive about the experience, with 8 in 10 (87%) stating they are ‘glad they went’ and that they were ‘put at ease by the nurse or doctor doing the test’ (84%). The new PHE campaign provides practical information about how women can make the test even more comfortable.

Practices vital to success

Public Health England hopes that practices will become involved in promoting the campaign. “The decline in numbers getting screened for cervical cancer is a major concern as it means millions of women are missing out on a potentially life-saving test,” Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening programmes at PHE said. “Two women die every day in England from cervical cancer, yet it is one of the most preventable cancers if caught early.”

Practices can play a key role in ensuring that the campaign is promoted and that patients are encouraged to attend tests if they are invited. They can download materials from a specially created Public Health England Dropbox account. There is a logo that can be displayed and shared, high-quality still photographs of the video and a downloadable copy of the video itself which can be embedded on your website and shared across social media.

“We want to see a future generation free of cervical cancer but we will only achieve our vision if women take up their screening invitations. This is a simple test which takes just five minutes and could save your life. It’s just not worth ignoring,” Professor Mackie added.

The campaign is part of a concerted strategy to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment, Public Health England has said. Cancer is one of the leading causes of premature death in England, accounting for over 40% of premature deaths, with an annual cost to the NHS of £5 billion. Early diagnosis of cancer, and screening programmes, are important parts of the NHS Long Term Plan; if patients have any questions about cervical cancer screening they can find information on the NHS website.

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