The proportion of women coming forward for vital cervical checks dropped to its lowest ever level during the first year of the pandemic, official figures show.
In the year up to March 2021, just seven in 10 eligible women in England were screened for abnormalities in their cervix that can lead to cancer, dropping two per cent on the previous year, NHS Digital figures revealed.
Just 3million 25 to 64-year-olds were checked, marking a 5.3 per cent drop on the previous year.
And the rate of women who booked in for a screening ranged from just less than half in Kensington and Chelsea to more than three-quarters in Derbyshire.
Women aged between 25 and 64 are invited for regular smear tests under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.
This is intended to detect abnormalities within the cervix that could, if undetected and untreated, develop into cervical cancer.
NHS Digital said Covid-related disruption is ‘likely’ to have led to the drop in women coming forward.
Samantha Dixon, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said the drop is ‘not unexpected’ due to the havoc wreaked by the pandemic, but it is ‘a worry’ because it will lead to more cancers that could have been prevented.
Medics have warned cases of all types of cancer have gone undetected due to the effects of the pandemic.
The National Audit Office data showed up to 60,000 people across England who would have been expected to start cancer treatment in March 2020 and September 2021 failed to do so.
In the year to March 2021, cervical screening dropped to 70.2 per cent of eligible women, compared to 72.2 per cent in the previous year. The figure is the lowest recorded since records began in 2010. Until this year, the previous lowest uptake was recorded in 2018 when 71.4 per cent of eligible women came forward
The first map shows the proportion of women coming forward for smear tests in the year to March 2020, while the second map shows the percentage of those coming forward in the year to March 2021. All regions reported a decrease compared with 2020 and no local authorities reached 80 per cent coverage (shown in dark blue). Overall, 91 out of areas 149 had coverage levels of 70 per cent (shown in blue) and above, a decrease of 12 compared to 2020
Women aged between 25 and 64 are invited for regular smear tests under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. This is intended to detect abnormalities within the cervix that could, if undetected and untreated, develop into cervical cancer. NHS Digital said Covid-related disruption is ‘likely’ to have led to the drop in women coming forward
During a screening, a sample of cells is collected from the cervix using a swab, which is then checked in a laboratory for types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix.
If these high risk types of HPV are found, they are further checked and treated, if required, before they can turn into cervical cancer.
The NHS Digital report states 4.6million women were sent a letter asking them to book a screening appointment.
WHAT IS A SMEAR TEST?
A smear test detects abnormal cells on the cervix, which is the entrance to the uterus from the vagina.
Removing these cells can prevent cervical cancer.
Most test results come back clear, however, one in 20 women show abnormal changes to the cells of their cervix.
In some cases, these need to be removed or can become cancerous.
Cervical cancer most commonly affects sexually-active women aged between 30 and 45.
In the UK, the NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites women aged 25-to-49 for a smear every three years, those aged 50 to 64 every five years, and women over 65 if they have not been screened since 50 or have previously had abnormal results.
Women must be registered with a GP to be invited for a test.
In the US, tests start when women turn 21 and are carried out every three years until they reach 65.
Changes in cervical cells are often caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can be transmitted during sex.
In the year to March 2021, cervical screening dropped to 70.2 per cent of eligible women, compared to 72.2 per cent in the previous year.
The figure is the lowest recorded since records began in 2010. Until this year, the previous lowest uptake was recorded in 2018 when 71.4 per cent of eligible women came forward.
Some 68 per cent of 25 to 49-year-olds had a smear test, compared to 70.2 per cent one year earlier.
A smaller decline was noted among 50 to 64-year-olds, with 74.7 per cent coming forward for the check, compared to 70.2 per cent during the previous year.
The figures highlight huge disparity between different parts of the country, with just 45.8 per cent of women in Kensington and Chelsea being screened, the lowest rate in the country, compared to 78.4 per cent of women in Derbyshire, the highest proportion.
All regions reported a decrease compared with 2020 and no local authorities reached 80 per cent coverage.
Overall, 91 out of areas 149 had coverage levels of 70 per cent and above, a decrease of 12 compared to 2020.
The North East had the highest proportion of women screened, at 75.5 per cent, while London had the lowest (64.7 per cent).
And referrals for a colposcopy, the procedure carried out if a cervical screening finds abnormal cells, dropped from 191,563 in the year to March 2020, to 176,561 in the most recent 12-month period.
Ms Dixon said: ‘A 2 per cent drop in cervical screening coverage is not unexpected given the last year, however it is a worry.
‘Our health service is under unprecedented strain at the moment and facing a long winter.
‘We cannot afford to let coverage slip further, it will only lead to even more cancers that could have prevented.
‘In some areas coverage is lower than one in two and that should be ringing alarm bells.’
It came as separate figures also showed that HPV vaccine coverage has improved but is ‘still not up to pre-pandemic levels’.
Disruption to schooling due to the pandemic led to issues with the HPV vaccine programme, which is delivered through schools.
The UK Health Security Agency data shows that in the 2020/2021 academic year, 76.7 per cent of 12-year-olds girls had their first HPV dose, compared with 59.2 per cent in 2019/20 and 88 per cent in 2018/19.
Among boys of the same age, 71 per cent had received their first dose.
Ms Dixon added: ‘Today’s data shows the impact of yet another interrupted year to the HPV vaccination programme, with great disparity across the country.
‘Coverage is still far lower than it was before the pandemic, meaning many schoolchildren could fall through the gap and miss out on protection from HPV-related cancers.’
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk