When invited to do so, the NHS is encouraging those eligible to schedule their cervical screening appointments.
As Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (23-29 Jan 2023) begins, Jo’s Trust, a cervical cancer charity, calls for increased awareness and uptake of the NHS cervical screening programme.
Around 2,700 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and approximately 690 die from the disease – around two deaths every day. The NHS Cervical Screening Programme helps save thousands of lives per year and those who are invited are being encouraged to ensure they attend their screening.
Dr Neil Smith, GP and cancer director for Lancashire and South Cumbria, said: “Cervical screening is not a test for cancer, it is a test to help prevent cancer. It saves lives by finding early abnormalities that can be treated even before cancer begins.
“Some people may feel worried or embarrassed about the screening itself, but your clinician at your GP practice or sexual health service will help you feel at ease and treat you with dignity when carrying out this important check.
“It may be a little uncomfortable but only takes a few minutes and could save your life. Anyone with concerns or questions should contact their GP practice.”
Over the last year (21/22), the NHS sent out more screening invitations than ever before – more than 5 million – and 3.5 million people came forward for testing.
Screening helps prevent cervical cancer by using a highly effective test to check for high-risk Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is found in over 99 per cent of all cervical cancers and which may cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix. These cells can, over time, turn into cancer if left untreated.
Having HPV does not mean someone has or will develop cervical cancer. It is a common virus that most people have at some point in their life without knowing it, which usually goes away on its own. If cell changes are identified early cervical cancer can be prevented from developing.
The NHS also offers the HPV vaccination to all children aged 12 and 13 at school in Year 8, up until school leaving age, with numerous catch-up opportunities provided by the School Aged Vaccination Teams. GP practices also offer vaccination for those who may have missed it in school, from age 14 up until 25.
HPV vaccination protects against the most common types of HPV, but it is still important to attend a cervical screening appointment when invited because the HPV vaccine does not protect against all strains of HPV.
Cervical screening is available by appointment at local GP practices and at some local sexual health services.
Dr Kiren Collison, GP and interim medical director for primary care at NHS England, said: “If you have received an invitation for cervical screening, or missed your last screening, please don’t wait to make an appointment. I know life is busy, but screening really does save lives – please put your health at the top of your to-do list and book that appointment with your GP practice or sexual health clinic today. It might just save your life.
“Through cervical screening and treating cell changes, as well as the HPV vaccination, we hope to prevent cervical cancer from ever developing and ultimately eradicate it altogether in the future.”