The NHS’s ambition to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040 is under threat after the uptake for screening fell for the third year in a row.
Latest figures show that just 68.7% of eligible women aged 25 to 64 had smear tests in 2022-23, down from 69.9% the previous year.
Attendance has failed to recover from the impact of the pandemic – with a 72.2% take-up of appointments in 2019-20.
Some 4.62 million women who qualified for screening were invited last year and 3.34 million booked a smear test.
The proportion of women up to date with checks ranged from 77% in Derbyshire to less than half in Camden, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster in London.
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Steve Russell, chief delivery officer and national director for vaccinations and screening for NHS England, said: “We know it’s possible for the NHS to eliminate cervical cancer within the next two decades, but it relies on millions continuing to come forward for screening and vaccinations every year. The NHS is doing everything we can by making it as easy as possible to make appointments.”
Around 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the UK and the disease claims 850 lives annually.
The HPV vaccine, offered to schoolgirls in Year 8 since September 2008 and boys of the same age since September 2019, has cut rates dramatically. But the NHS aim of driving cases below the threshold for elimination by 2040 relies on boosting vaccination and screening uptake.
Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for a smear test every three years and every five years for ages 50 to 64.
Health chiefs are urging anyone overdue for a check to contact their GP practice.
Martin Hunt of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said:
“It can be difficult for reasons including work and childcare commitments, anxiety and misinformation surrounding the test. But these tests are vital – they can prevent cancer.”
Nicola Smith of Cancer Research UK added: “We encourage women and people with a cervix, such as trans men and non-binary people assigned female at birth, to take part.”
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