Jade Goody was only 27 years old when she died from the condition, leaving a young family behind. The harrowing story sparked awareness amongst women, which led to a notably higher number attending for screening and therefore increasing their chances of early detection of cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. Sadly, the number of women taking part in screening has been steadily declining again over recent years, having hit a 20 year low in 2019.
Should the screening age for cervical cancer screening be lowered?
10 years on, campaigning continues, and the issue has recently hit the headlines again, as support grows for lowering the minimum age for the screening programme.
Presently, women aged between 25 and 64 are periodically invited for NHS screening for cervical cancer. There are, however, calls to lower the minimum age for smear tests from 25 to 18. Petitions have been raised and support continues to gain momentum.
Early detection is key to successful treatment
Early detection is the key to successful treatment of the condition, but many still decline the invitation to attend for screening for a variety of reasons, from embarrassment to fears about pain.
The appointment itself only lasts around 5 minutes and you can expect to receive the results of the test within a couple of weeks.
It is suggested that approximately 24% of diagnosed cases of cervical cancer in England are detected through the screening programme, evidencing the value of the process. This figure would likely be higher if the number of women being screened could be increased; whether that be through encouraging and informing women to engage with screening services when invited, or by widening the group being offered the screening in the first place.
DIY cervical cancer testing
There are also exciting developments in relation to DIY home testing kits, which, it is hoped, will encourage more women to be screened. The kits are presently being made by GynaeHealth UK and test for HPV (human papilloma virus), which is believed to be the underlying cause of 99.7% of all cervical cancers that develop. When opting to use the kits, women collect their own sample and return it to GynaeHealth UK by post for analysis. The results are then sent back within 10 days and if a positive result of HPV is detected the recipient is referred to their own GP or gynaecologist for further investigation. The test is currently available to purchase on a private basis, but consideration is being given for NHS funding for the same. When Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust was asked to comment on the launch of the kits, it said that it would be ‘hugely positive’ if self-sampling results in more women being tested.
The cervical screening programme saves lives and will continue to do so. Sadly, however, even with such measures in place, errors still happen and some tests show false-negative (abnormal cells are not shown even when they are present, and the patient does not go on to have further necessary treatment) or false-positive (abnormalities are shown when in reality there are none) results. Also, cancerous cells are sometimes not detected early enough, leading to invasive cancer and more aggressive treatment.
If you, or someone you know has suffered as a result of delayed or incorrect diagnosis, contact our experts now to make an appointment to discuss your case in confidence.
Find out more about cervical cancer screening.
By medical negligence solicitor, Heather Smith.