NHS England Encourages Women to Schedule Cervical Screening as One-Third Miss Out on Critical Opportunity

The National Health Service (NHS) is urging individuals who are eligible for cervical screening to participate in potentially life-saving appointments, as approximately 4.6 million people, accounting for nearly one-third of the population, have not taken advantage of the latest screening opportunity.

High-ranking NHS healthcare professionals are making this appeal following the issuance of a record number of invitations for cervical screening in the past year. The NHS aims to eliminate cervical cancer by implementing a combination of vaccination and early detection.

Over five million invitations were sent out in the last full year (2021/22), representing a 10.5% increase compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Through screening, cervical cancer can be prevented by utilizing a highly effective test to detect high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV), which is present in more than 99% of all cervical cancer cases and can lead to the development of abnormal cells in the cervix. If left untreated, these abnormal cells have the potential to transform into cancer over time.

England sees approximately 2,700 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed annually, but the NHS screening program saves around 5,000 lives each year.

Dr. Kiren Collison, a General Practitioner and the NHS Interim Medical Director for Primary Care, emphasizes the significant progress made in the Cervical Screening Programme. The combination of the HPV vaccine and the enhanced screening method for cervical cancer presents the unprecedented opportunity to completely eradicate this disease. Dr. Collison stresses the importance of accepting the invitation for screening, advising individuals not to delay making an appointment with their GP practice or sexual health clinic. Taking this step can potentially save lives.

The call from senior NHS healthcare professionals coincides with Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (January 23rd-29th, 2023), organized by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, a cervical cancer charity. The event aims to raise awareness about cervical cancer and encourage participation in the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.

Screening involves the collection of a small sample of cells from the cervix to determine the presence of high-risk HPV that could progress into cervical cancer if left untreated.

Individuals between the ages of 25 to 64 who are eligible receive invitations by letter every 3-5 years, with the frequency potentially increasing if HPV or cellular changes are detected.

Professor Peter Johnson, the National Clinical Director for Cancer, highlights the effectiveness of screening in preventing the development of cervical cancer or identifying it at an early stage. He emphasizes the importance of attending screening appointments, acknowledging that there may be various reasons for hesitancy, such as embarrassment, inconvenience, or uncertainty. Professor Johnson urges individuals to consult healthcare professionals if they are unsure. He also underlines the fact that HPV can remain undetectable for many years before eventually causing abnormal cells that lead to cancer. Therefore, attending regular screenings is crucial, even for those who have previously received negative results.

In the 2021/22 period, the NHS achieved an increase in cervical screening, with 3.5 million women aged 25-64 being screened, a 9.4% rise compared to the previous year (2019/2020) when 3.2 million underwent screening.

It is important to note that having HPV does not guarantee the development of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that many individuals experience without realizing it, and it often resolves on its own. Early identification of cell changes can prevent the onset of cervical cancer.

Maria Caulfield, the Minister for Women's Health, emphasizes the significance of early detection and prevention of cervical cancer, drawing from her experience as a nurse in a cancer unit. She highlights the NHS cervical screening program as a vital tool in identifying and preventing the risk of cervical cancer. Caulfield informs individuals about the improvements being made to the screening process, such as extended laboratory screening operating 24/7 and expanded location options, resulting in faster test results and easier access to screenings. She encourages all eligible individuals to attend their potentially life-saving screenings when invited.

The NHS is currently conducting a pilot program for at-home self-screening for cervical cancer. The results of this trial will determine whether it should be implemented on a national scale.

In addition, the NHS provides HPV vaccination to children aged 12 and 13 in Year 8 at schools, and individuals up to the age of 25 through GP practices for those who may have missed the school vaccination. It is important to note that attending cervical screening appointments is still necessary, as the HPV vaccine does not provide protection against all strains of HPV.

Local GP practices and certain local sexual health services offer cervical screening appointments upon request.

The procedure involves a thorough examination of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. During the screening, a small brush is used to collect cells from the cervix for analysis.

Cervical screening is crucial for detecting any abnormalities or changes in the cells that could potentially lead to cervical cancer. It is recommended that all eligible individuals, particularly those between the ages of 25 and 64, undergo regular cervical screening.

By attending these appointments, individuals can ensure early detection and take necessary steps to prevent the development of cervical cancer. It is important to note that the screening is not a diagnostic test but rather a preventive measure.

If any abnormalities are found during the screening, further investigations, such as colposcopy, may be required. Colposcopy involves a more detailed examination of the cervix using a special microscope.

Overall, cervical screening is a vital component of maintaining women's reproductive health. It offers an opportunity to identify any potential issues early on and take appropriate action accordingly.

To schedule a cervical screening appointment, please contact your local GP practice or sexual health service.

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