Concerns over ignored smear tests
More than a million women are failing to take up the offer of a smear test, new figures show.
A total of 4.24million women in England, aged between 25 to 64, were invited for cervical screening in 2013/14.
Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) showed that 3.23 million of those were tested - a fall of 2.9% compared to 3.32million in the previous year.
Robert Music, chief executive of the charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, called for action to boost the numbers of women attending screening.
He said: "We are extremely concerned by the huge number of women not attending screening.
"As one of the only preventable cancers, women have an opportunity to significantly reduce their risk of developing this disease, yet for various reasons year on year fewer women are taking up their cervical screening invitation.
"It is now time that we halt this decline by ensuring that women recognise the importance of screening as a preventable measure so they attend promptly.
"We must address the barriers to screening attendance both psychological, such as fear and embarrassment, as well as practical, for example language, literacy and simply not being able to take time off work.
"It's paramount that all four UK governments invest in very targeted cervical cancer prevention campaigns at a local level in order to save many more lives and in the long term make this a disease of the past."
All women aged between 25 and 64 are invited for cervical screening every three to five years. The procedure is used to detect abnormal cells which, if left untreated, could lead to cancer in the cervix.
Screening coverage - the percentage of eligible women recorded as having been properly tested at least once in the last five years - has been falling.
On 31 March this year, the figure stood at 77.8%, down from 78.3% a year earlier and 80.6% a decade ago.
The HSCIC also said the data revealed that the uptake of smear tests is lowest among younger women.
Although screening coverage for women aged 25 to 29 increased to 63.3% at 31 March 2014 from 62.0% in 2013, it was still "considerably lower" than in any other age group.
It means that more than one in three women in the youngest age group have not been screened in the last three-and-a-half years. By contrast, coverage among women aged 50 to 54 was 81.6%.
There were also regional variations, with the percentage of women tested at least once in the last five years lowest in London (75.2%) and highest in the East Midlands (79.8%).
Professor Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes - which is managed by Public Health England (PHE), said it was "encouraging" that the overall screening numbers "remain high",
But she added: " PHE are concerned to see a drop in the numbers of younger women aged under 30 - with just 63% being screened every three years, they are clearly lagging behind the older age group, where attendance is over 81% every five years.
"It is evident that women in this younger age group still need encouragement to be screened and we are working hard to address this with research under way to investigate new ways of improving screening uptake among younger women.
"One positive change is in coverage among women aged up to 49 years, which rose to almost 72% every three years. This is the first rise in this age group for four years and we hope this continues.
"It's important women realise that regular attendance at screening remains the top preventative measure against cervical cancer and it is essential that women are aware of this when deciding whether or not to take up their invitation."