Brighton and Hove has the lowest cervical screening rates in the south east and numbers attending for screening are falling year on year.
Recent figures show in Brighton and Hove, only 69.5 per cent of women aged between 25 and 64 attended their scheduled smear test last year (2015/16) compared to 70.2 per cent the year before (2014/15). That’s compared to 75.1 per cent in the rest of East Sussex (75.6 in 2014/15), and 74.5 per cent in neighbouring West Sussex (75.0 in 2014/15).
NHS England said screening rates are at a 19-year low, and statistics also show that the number of women aged 25-29 years of age being screened for cervical cancer is the lowest in any age group.
Dr Alison Taylor, NHS England deputy medical director for the south east and a Shoreham GP said: “We have noticed a fall in attendance of younger women over the past few years, and this decline in attendance for screening is now linked to showing a rise in the incidence of cervical cancer in women under 35.”
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 but is largely preventable thanks to cervical screening and the HPV vaccination programme.
Despite this, more than 5,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. NHS England said the majority of women diagnosed have delayed coming forward for screening.
Surveys undertaken by cancer charities point to embarrassment and a lack of understanding of the causes of cervical cancer may be behind the fall in numbers attending their smear tests.
Brighton mum of two Maria said: “In March 2010 I had a smear test. I was 37 years old and hadn’t been for a screening for eight years, I’d been busy with my children and there was always something that came up to put me off going. When the results came back I was told they had found stage 1 cervical cancer - I was devastated.”
Following two operations Maria has been cancer free for six years and is now leading the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust Brighton support group.
Robert Music, chief executive for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “Coverage in Brighton and Hove is just 69.5 per cent which is the lowest in the south east and means that over one in four women aren’t attending their smear test when invited. Smear tests prevent against 75 per cent of cervical cancers and provide the best protection against the disease. I would encourage every woman to attend this potentially life-saving test when invited and hope that people in Brighton and Hove will join our #SmearForSmear campaign to raise awareness of smear tests.”
NHS England has signed up to the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust ‘Time to Test’ pledge demonstrating commitment to raising awareness of cervical cancer prevention in the workplace and ensuring female employees can access cervical screening. The pledge states: The health of our employees comes first and if employees cannot make appointments out of working hours, we will find a way to make sure they can attend cervical screening, even if it means doing so during their working day.
NHS England is also supporting European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week which runs from January 22 to 28. The Surrey and Sussex Screening and Immunisation team are working with GP practices to increase awareness and encourage them to support Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.
The week aims to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening and its role in preventing cancer, as well as encouraging women to go for their screening test when invited.
Dr Taylor added: “It is really important for young women to understand the importance of attending cervical screening as it can detect pre-cancer abnormalities, which, if left untreated, may develop into cancer. Screening is for people without symptoms as a preventative measure.”