26 Jan 2023
According to Cancer Research UK, the UK has one of the highest cervical cancer screening rates in Europe and more than 2,000 lives are saved each year. This is something to be proud of as we come to the end of Cervical Cancer Awareness Week.
Cancer Research UK has compiled the latest data on the incidence of cervical cancer and outcomes which shows there are around 3,200 new cervical cancer cases in the UK every year, which is nearly nine every day and there are still challenges facing the NHS. For example, 16% of the new cervical cancer cases are linked with deprivation and screening rates have continued to drop over the last 20 years. Between 2017 and 2019, 873 women died from the disease.
Cervical screening is a way of preventing cancer and tests for the human papilloma virus (HPV). This Cervical Cancer Prevention Week it is crucial to understand the reasons why women choose not to attend screening appointments and widen the discussion into the benefits of self-screening.
A recent study, which is the first of its kind in the UK into self-screening, revealed that 51% of people with a cervix would be happy to choose self-sampling, compared to 36.5% who would prefer to stay with clinician sampling. Crucially it was the women who sometimes delayed or missed a cervical screening appointment or who had never attended one who chose self-sampling compared to regular attendees.
At the start of the survey, 379 people said they did not intend to go for cervical screening in the future. However , with further information 78.9% said they would choose self-sampling in the future.
Pilot studies are currently underway, offering self-sampling to non-attendees within the NHS Cervical Screening Programme in parts of North East London and North Central London
Self-screening has the potential to overcome many barriers including embarrassment, inconvenience, previous negative experiences of screening and perception of low risk of cervical cancer. It can also help to overcome health inequalities within certain communities.
So how can we drive awareness in the UK and can we look to other countries like Australia for ways to increase self-screening? According to Daffodil Centre (a joint venture between Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney), Australia is on track to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem through a combination of immunisation, screening and treatment.
In Australia, Medicare is already offering self-screening to all women aged 25-74, as part of its National Screening Programme which intends to increase uptake of screening by 30%. Self-testing aims to increases screening participation rates, particularly among groups who may be under screened and hard to reach. Recent evidence from Africa has shown that the sensitivity and specificity of HPV testing in self-collected samples were similar to those for clinician-collected samples when using validated PCR-based HPV assays.
Combining the UK research with already available evidence from other countries who are already offering it, such as Australia, can help to drive awareness and empowerment for women who are at risk from a cancer that is both preventable and treatable.