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Dr. Jo Waller

Dr Jo Waller

At University College, London, Cancer Research UK-funded Dr Jo Waller is investigating participation in cervical screening. She's looking into why women don’t always take up the invitation to go for screening. Do women choose not to attend? Or are they not aware? Or are there practical reasons such as lack of time?

This will help Dr. Waller to find ways to reduce barriers to screening. She will also develop ways to raise awareness of screening. Dr. Waller will target interventions at the right groups to help more women attend tests.


Why this research is needed


Each year, around 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK. HPV vaccination and cervical screening sharply reduce the risk of cervical cancer, as both can prevent it developing in the first place.


About 1 in 4 women in England do not take part in screening and around 1 in 6 girls remain unvaccinated. Cervical cancer disproportionally affects poorer women, partly due to a lower uptake of screening.


Impact of HPV vaccination and cervical screening


Since 2008, girls aged 12-13 have been offered HPV vaccination. And for women aged 25-64, there’s the cervical screening program which aims to prevent cervical cancer from developing in the first place - or if cancer is already present, diagnosing it as early as possible. 


Although the vaccine protects against the two types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer, it doesn’t protect against them all.  So screening is still important for girls who have been vaccinated. Cervical screening isn’t a test for cancer. Although it does sometimes find cervical cancers, it’s a way of finding abnormal changes to cells which can be treated so that they do not become cancerous in the future.


Screening really works.  Since cervical screening started in the 1980s in Great Britain, incidence rates of cervical cancer have almost halved. That's saving at least 2,000 lives each year. If screening rates increased, more women would be saved. 


Raising awareness and increasing participation

Dr. Jo Waller, at the UCL Department of Behavioural Science and Health, is investigating why some people don’t participate in HPV vaccination and cervical screening. She is drawing on health psychology, social marketing, and behavioural economics to develop targeted interventions designed to increase the uptake of HPV vaccination and cervical screening. For example, Dr. Waller has shown that many women are aware of the benefits of screening, but don't attend for practical reasons such as the time to schedule appointments. She is experimenting with ways to make this easier, such as text notifications and appointment booking.


The impact


This research has the potential to increase informed uptake of screening and ultimately reduce the impact of cervical cancer. Put simply, if screening rates go up, fewer women will die from cervical cancer.

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