Smear test rates have plummeted in the past 20 years and there is concern that the ‘Jade Goody effect’ has disappeared and lives could be lost, a cervical cancer charity has warned.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust warns that more mothers, daughters, sisters and friends will be lost to cervical cancer if this does not change, adding that the ‘Jade Goody effect has long gone’.
Cervical screening coverage has fallen from 72.7 per cent to 72 per cent in the last year across the UK – with more than 1.2 million women not taking up their invitation for smear tests.
It was back in 2008 when Big Brother star Jade Goody announced her cervical cancer diagnosis at the age of 27 and died just a year later in March 2009. She had never gone for her smear test appointments.
Her bravery and openness in her fight against cervical cancer brought home to young women across the country the importance of regularly going for the checks.
Over 10 years later British women are still citing Jade’s tragic story as saving their life.
Hayley Prince, a focused care practitioner in the NHS, recently opened up about the effect Jade’s death from cervical cancer had on her.
Speaking to the Metro in a first person piece in March 2019, she said: “When I was younger, I always went for my smear tests when I was invited. It’s one of those things you can easily put off but it wasn’t the test itself that was the issue for me.
“I was a single, working mum of three at the time and I often could not get an evening appointment so, as life got busier, making the appointment to go for a smear test ended up being something I completely forgot about.
“I had been having some pain in my lower back but thought it was nothing to worry about.”
“However, when she passed away, it really made me sit up and take notice that I had been putting off going to my appointment. It made me go and book that appointment there and then, along with about 400,000 other women who were inspired to do the same.
“If not for Jade, I would not have been reminded to book in. I don’t know how long I would have left it. I certainly was not expecting this smear test to save my life.”
Following her smear, doctors found Jo had stage 2 cervical cancer at just 32.
Jo said: “The cancer had also spread to my lymph nodes in my groin, so I also had chemotherapy and radiotherapy which were incredibly difficult. I got the all clear in 2015 after five years of check-ups. I have been left with lymphedema in my lower body as well as bowel problems that may never go away.
“Yes, I am grateful to be alive, but it affects me every single day and I am constantly reminded of what I have had to deal with.
“After what I have been through, I can’t say how thankful I am that Jade’s story was so well-publicised.”
Despite the publicity Jade’s death brought, screening rates are still the lowest they have been for 20 years, having fallen across every age and almost all local authorities in England.
In Cambridgeshire, cervical screening coverage has decreased to 71.6 per cent from 72.2 per cent. Among those aged 25 to 49, this falls to 68.6 per cent.
Women have the right to choose not to attend, however the cervical screening programme is estimated to save more than 4,000 lives each year.
Women aged 25 to 49 are offered screening every three years on the NHS and women aged 50 to 64 are offered screening every five years.
This includes women who have had the HPV vaccination, as the vaccine doesn’t guarantee complete protection against cervical cancer.
For the majority of women, the test results show that everything is fine, but for around one in 20 women, it shows changes in cells which if undetected and untreated, can lead to cancer.
These changes are fully treatable and regular screening therefore protects women again cervical cancer.
‘The Jade Goody effect has long gone’
Robert Music, chief executive at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “I am extremely disappointed to see these statistics, however sadly I am not surprised. The Jade Goody effect has long gone.
“We have spoken out time and time again about the need for investment and action to improve cervical screening attendance, however this is simply not happening.
“The Cancer Strategy for England emphasises prevention so it is incredibly frustrating to see lack of activity to increase participation in a programme that can prevent diagnoses of cervical cancer.”
The charity states that a lack of funding is hindering the progress of changes which will increase accessibility for women – including the ability to attend screening at GPs other than the one they are registered with, such as close to work, at more sexual health services and to be able to self-sample.
In a report released in January 2017 , Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found almost half (44 per cent) of local authorities and almost two thirds (60 per cent) of CCGs had not undertaken any activities to increase screening attendance in the last two years – with many stating it is not their responsibility.
Robert added: “We should be proud of our cervical screening programme; it saves thousands of lives every year and further developments, such as the introduction of HPV primary screening, are only going to make it better.
“However with increasing numbers not attending their screenings fewer will benefit from these improvements. As a charity we are working our hardest, but we can’t do it alone.
“There are some examples of amazing work happening across the country to improve uptake and we need to see this amplified, locally and nationally or lives will be lost.
“We are leading busier, more mobile lives and therefore these statistics must surely serve as a call to action to make the screening programme more accessible.
“Again, this is something we have been saying for years.”