Smear test plea for women in Sandwell and West Birmingham as screening attendance falls

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Women in Sandwell and West Birmingham are being reminded of the importance of attending regular smear tests for cervical cancer as latest figures reveal that attendance of cervical screening in England is the lowest for two decades.

NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Sandwell Council are supporting the #SmearForSmear 2018 campaign, which runs from 22 - 28 January 2018 during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.

More women per 100,000 in Sandwell die from cervical cancer than in the West Midlands and England. Currently West Bromwich has the lowest coverage rates for women screened for cervical cancer across Sandwell – the rate is much lower than recommended levels of 80%. Only 59% of women aged 25- 49 have been screened in the last 3 years compared with 74% of those aged 50-64 in the last 5 years*. Rates are particularly poor for women from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities, those living in areas of high deprivation and migrant women, particularly Polish and Romanian and other Eastern Europeans.

It has been estimated that cervical screening saves around 4,500 lives in the UK each year. Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for cervical screening, also known as a smear test, every three years. After that, women are invited every five years until the age of 64. Since the introduction of cervical screening in the 1980s, the number of cervical cancer cases has decreased by about 7% each year.

For younger women, HPV vaccinations can help prevent seven out of 10 cervical cancers, and these are routinely given to girls across the country aged 12 and 13. This is a vaccination against the persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection that causes changes to the cervical cells and is responsible for nearly all cervical cancers. It is important that women who had the HPV vaccine when they were 12 or 13, still need to have cervical screening.

Dr Nick Harding, Chair of NHS Sandwell and West Birmingham CCG, said:

"We are urging all women between the ages of 25 and 64 to go to their GP practice for their smear test. This is vital as early-stage cervical cancers don’t usually have symptoms and are generally detected through screening.

"By detecting early abnormalities in the cervix, or the neck of the womb, we can prevent women from going on to get cancer and improve survival rates. It is also important that if you have any abnormal symptoms between your smear tests that you see your GP."

Councillor Elaine Costigan, Sandwell Council’s cabinet member for public health and protection, said: "Getting a smear test is something that a lot of us women can put off for a range of reasons. However we know that early detection is the key to preventing cancer and improving survival rates. I would urge all women who are eligible to prioritise themselves and their health and make sure they have regular smear tests."

The #SmearForSmear 2018 campaign is run by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, a UK charity dedicated to women affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. For more information on #SmearForSmear 2018 visit https://www.jostrust.org.uk/

Robert Music, Chief Executive at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said "Cervical cancer is largely preventable with cervical screening (smear tests) providing the best protection against the disease. Screening prevents up to 75% of cervical cancers yet the number of women attending is at a 20 year low in England. It is even more concerning that screening attendance in both Sandwell and Birmingham is below the national average (72.0%), falling to 68.0% in Sandwell and 66.1% in Birmingham. Body concerns, embarrassment, cultural and literary issues are among the reasons why women don’t attend their smear test invites. We must work together on both a national and regional level to help women overcome these barriers and increase screening uptake or we will see more lives lost. During Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, we want to encourage discussion about the importance of smear tests and address how women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer."

You can listen to Dr Kerry Bailey from Eneki Medical Pracrice encouraging more women to attend their cervical screening appointments on the Sunny and Shay Show on BBC WM here, you will need to register with BBC iPlayer before you can listen to the interview.

Source *Sandwell Council. 2012. Sandwell Healthy Community Profiles 2012/13