Cervical cancer screenings: are you eligible?

Lesley Dobson / 16 June 2015

Nearly 50% of cervical cancer deaths occur in women over the age of 64

The Keele University study, published in the BMJ, is being launched to mark Cervical Screening Awareness Week (June 15 – 21). The study also found that we go for screening less and less as we grow older. In England 81.6 % of 50 – 54 year olds went for screening, but only 74.8 % of 55-59 year olds attended. And by the time we reach 60 – 64 years, only 73.2 % of us have cervical screening. 

Dr Susan Sherman, senior lecturer at Keele University and lead author of the report,” said “Despite all the attention on younger women – in part due to the Jade Goody effect – 20% of new diagnoses and nearly 50% of cervical cancer deaths occur in women over the age of 64.”  Dr Sherman and her colleagues believe that the upper age limits of cervical screening programmes should be reviewed, and that awareness campaigns should target older women as well as younger women.

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust’s study found worrying gaps in our knowledge about cervical cancer, what triggers it and the risks it carries. Here are a few facts gathered by the survey (all relate to women over 50): 

  • Almost 60% of women aged 50-64 do not know that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer. 
  • 38.4% of those surveyed who delayed screening didn’t realise that even if you only ever have one sexual partner, you can still have the Human Papillomavirus. 
  • HPV can lay dormant for many years. 
  • 31.1% of those questioned had a new sexual partner in the last 20 years. This includes 10.1% who had a new partner in the last 10 years, and 8.2% who had a new partner in the last five years. 
  • In 2014 over a third of diagnoses were in women who were over 50. Those aged 50 to 64 are more likely to have advanced stage cervical cancer, with 49% diagnosed with stage two or later. 
  • Women of 50-64 delayed cervical screening by an average of almost four years. One in ten put off screening for five to ten years. 
  • 53.9% of the women who delayed having a cervical screening test said that they would prefer a test for HPV that allowed them to self-sample at home. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is calling for further research into the possibility of a home self-sampling test. 

Being diagnosed with cervical cancer at a later stage means that any treatment will be more invasive, and can lead to a reduced quality of life, and, more seriously, can reduce your chances of survival. 

“It’s absolutely vital that women of all ages are educated around the cause of cervical cancer and their risk of HPV,” said Robert Music, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. 

“Responses from women questioned in our research were worrying with some citing they had been ‘celibate’ for several years and therefore did not consider themselves to be at risk. 

“We must remind all women that HPV is very common and can lie dormant for very long periods of time, and that the best way of reducing one’s risk of cervical cancer is to attend screening promptly, while you’re still eligible.” 

Early detection (through cervical screening) and treatment is estimated to prevent around 75% of cervical cancers. 

Who can have cervical screening?

  • Women aged 50 to 64 years old are invited to have cervical screening every five years. 
  • Women aged 65 or over are usually only invited for screening if they haven’t had screening since the age of 50, or have had recent test results that showed abnormalities. 
  • If you are over 65 and your last three tests had normal results, you won’t be asked to come for screening again, as it’s seen as unusual for women in this group to go on to have cervical cancer. 
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