World Cancer Day: Young women increasing risk of cervical cancer due to attitudes to screening and lack of knowledge

Young women are at an unnecessary risk of developing cervical cancer, which is almost symptomless until it is reaches an advanced stage, because of negative attitudes towards smear tests, experts have warned on World Cancer Day.

Researching attitudes towards cervical cancer screening, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre-commissioned survey found that fewer than four in ten women aged 25 – 34* (39 per cent) book their smear test as soon as they receive the invitation. Half of women in the same age group (50 per cent) wait up to a year before booking their appointment and a worrying 11 per cent of these women ignore the letter altogether and do not book their smear test at all.

According to experts, the five-year survival rate for women with cervical cancer is 96 per cent, when the cancer is presented at its earliest stage, stage one**. The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre’s data shows that nationally, 61 per cent of women understand that the earlier cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat, but in this 25- to34-year-old bracket, only 39 per cent of women were aware of this fact, perhaps explaining why booking their smear test is not seen as a priority.

Dr Karen Whitmarsh, consultant in clinical oncology and specialist in gynaecological cancers at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, said: “Awareness of cancer screening programmes is not where it should be, particularly cervical screening. In the six months after Jade Goody’s death in 2009, statistics from the National Cancer Intelligence Network*** showed that awareness of cervical screening peaked and we were seeing more women for tests, which resulted in more cases of early diagnosis. Sadly, that awareness has reduced again as cervical cancer hits the headlines less, and as these new figures show, young women are again missing opportunities to potentially save their lives.”

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre’s research also found that as women get older, they tend to book their smear test in a timelier manner.

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