Can GPs Reverse the Decline in Cervical Cancer Screening?

Cervical cancer is one of the three most common cancers in women aged 15-49. The death of reality TV star Jade Goody in 2009 brought an increase in cervical cancer awareness, but screening numbers have since fallen lower than they have been for 20 years.

This decline means cervical cancer is going undetected for longer and putting the lives of many women at risk. It also has a negative impact on an already underfunded NHS, as treating later-stage cervical cancer requires more resources than with early-stage forms.

Healthcare professionals and cancer charities are becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of women taking up this preventative measure. The NHS is launching a national cervical screening campaign to reverse the decline and raise awareness of the importance of being screened. The campaign will focus on helping women understand why screening is needed, while at the same time respecting that screening is a personal choice for every woman.

Why are screenings in decline?

Several reasons have been proposed for the decline in cervical cancer screenings, from a collective misunderstandings of what the screening is for, to women feeling self-conscious about having the procedure done. Other reasons include:

  • A mistaken belief that the HPV vaccination gives 100% protection from the risk of cervical cancer
  • Many women feel embarrassed about their bodies and so won’t attend screenings
  • Many think the experience is painful or uncomfortable
  • A lack of understanding about why women should go for a screening. For example: they are healthy so need not attend
  • A belief that screening doesn’t reduce the risk of getting cancer
  • Not being able to get to appointments within working hours or not wanting to take time off work
  • The wait for an appointment may be too long
  • Some women don’t know where they can get a smear test

What can GPs do to encourage cervical cancer screening?

GPs will play a pivotal role in the campaign to reverse the decline in cervical cancer screenings. They are in the best position to identify women who have not been screened and follow up with those who have failed to attend appointments.

GPs can also help in the following ways:

  • By explaining the signs of cervical cancer
  • By asking patients who attend the surgery if they want to be screened and making an appointment for them
  • By sending regular reminders when screening is due or overdue
  • By following up with women who haven’t attended their screening appointments
  • By helping patients to understand that cervical screening offers the best protection against cervical cancer
  • By discussing concerns about the screening and highlighting the benefits
  • By providing out-of-hours appointments or advising women about local out-of-hours clinics where they can be screened
  • By training reception staff on raising awareness with relevant patients
  • By getting involved in awareness weeks and days
  • By displaying information about screenings in the surgery

EBPCOOH provides an out of hours GP service in East Berkshire. This service offers flexibility to both healthcare professionals and patients. For the latest updates and healthcare news, check in regularly with our blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.