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Fall in cervical cancer screening numbers

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The number of women tested for cervical cancer dropped this year, figures show, prompting concerns the “Jade Goody effect” may be tailing off.

Figures from the NHS Information Centre showed less women were tested for the disease in the past year, compared with the year before.

The report said 3.3 million women aged 25 to 64 in England were tested under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme in 2009-10, a drop from the previous year’s peak of 3.6 million.

Big Brother star Jade Goody died in March last year after being diagnosed with cervical cancer. Her plight prompted a surge in the number of young women going for smear tests.

But today’s figures show that although numbers peaked in 2008-09 they dropped in the past year, mainly in women aged 25-49.

The NHS Information Centre said the fall relates to women in that age group, where the number tested fell from 3.0 million to 2.6 million.

The Cervical Screening Programme invites all women aged 25 to 64 for regular tests - every three to three and a half years for 25 to 49-year-olds and every five years for those aged 50 to 64.

The figures show the total number of women invited for tests fell for all groups between 25 and 49, except 25 to 29-year-olds, where there was an increase of nearly 49,000 women invited.

And the number of women actually tested fell for all groups aged 25 to 49, who are invited every three years. For 25 to 29-year-olds the drop was just under 23,000, falling to just under 566,000.

But the report said overall coverage - the proportion of 25 to 64-year-olds who had an adequate test in the last five years out of those eligible for one - stayed the same for both years at just under 80%.

There has also been an increase in the number of results sent out by primary care organisations within two weeks - from 21.4% to 44.6%, the report found.

NHS Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan said: “Screening is vital to catch changes to the cervix which may develop into cervical cancer.

“This report is important in helping NHS professionals and the public understand what percentage of eligible women is being screened.

“The 2008-09 peak in numbers attending screening, which may be due in part to publicity surrounding the late Jade Goody’s battle with cervical cancer, appears not to have been sustained this year.”

“The report also tells us a greater percentage of women are finding out their test results faster; as the percentage of results being sent out within two weeks of screening has more than doubled in a year to reach just under 45%.”

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