On Saturday 16 June I’ll start a year-long, 3,500 mile walk around the English and Welsh coasts (sorry Scotland, saving that for next time) to raise awareness that we can eradicate cervical cancer within a generation. That can happen if all young people get the HPV vaccination and if all women aged 25-64 get screened regularly.
My challenge is in aid of Cancer Research UK and the funds I raise will go to Dr Jo Waller at the University College London. With funding from Cancer Research UK, Dr Waller is studying how to increase take-up of cervical cancer screening (Pap smears).
In the year to March 2017, 72% of eligible women in England were screened. The figures have fallen slightly over the past few years – in the 2012 the figure was 75.4%. All the details can be found here.
This really matters. Many women who are diagnosed with late stage cervical cancer have missed out on their screening. So what can be done? Dr Waller told me about her work. It was fascinating.
Firstly, her team surveyed women to understand why they were missing their screening appointments. Here’s what they found (see also this blog and this blog by Dr Waller where she describes the results in more detail). Among women who were currently overdue for their screening, or who weren’t intending to go next time:
· About 30% had never heard of screening. These women were more likely to be younger (so they’d had fewer screening invitations and opportunities to engage with the programme), from an ethnic minority background – perhaps not speaking much English – and they were less likely to have seen a GP recently.
· About 15% knew about screening, but didn’t want to go. Perhaps they’d had a poor experience the last time or they didn’t see themselves as being as risk.
· Fully 50% knew about screening (many had taken part before), and intended to go, but in the end just didn’t get round to it. When the letter came, it went into the pile with the bills. The doctor’s office wasn’t open when they got home in the evening and picked up the mail, so it wasn’t easy to make an appointment. Life happens. We’ve all been there.
· The other 5% consisted of a variety of reasons.
So Dr Waller is running a pilot intervention for the 50% group that knows about screening and would like to participate. In addition to the letter, women will receive a text message with a link, which they can use to download an app to make the appointment. No need to call the doctor’s office. It can all be done in two minutes on the phone.
That seems like a great idea to make things easier. And to save lives.