The “Jade Goody” effect on cervical cancer testing has faded in England, with fewer women having tests last year compared with the previous 12 months, according to new figures revealed yesterday.
The fall in numbers alarmed campaigners - as it is thought to be too early for the HPV vaccination programme to be having an impact on older women.
Jade gained fame as a plain-speaking star of Big Brother - but the tragedy of her death from cervical cancer raised the profile of the disease and led to a massive increase in the numbers of women turning up for screening.
A total of 3.3 million women aged 25 to 64 were tested under the NHS Cervical Screening Programme in England during 2009 and 2010, a drop of 300,000 on the previous year, an NHS Information Centre report has revealed.
Tim Straughan, NHS Information Centre chief executive, 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."
Dr Claire Knight, of Cancer Research UK, warned: "These figures show that, as in previous years, one in five eligible women are not attending cervical screening. Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented through screening, by picking up early changes in the cells that can lead to the disease.
"Even though we now have the HPV vaccine it's still important women go for cervical screening when they're invited."
- Cervical Screening Programme, England, 2009-10 report shows that the fall relates to women in the 25 to 49 age bracket, where the number tested fell from three million to 2.6 million.
The report also reveals that the total number of women invited fell for all groups aged between 25 and 49 with the exception of the 25 to 29-year-olds, where there was an increase of nearly 49,000 women invited, reaching just under 807,000.
The report also shows that in 2009-10:
• The number of women invited in the 25 to 49 age group fell overall by just under 24,000, to just under 3.3 million, while the number tested fell by just over 354,000, to a little over 2.6 million.
• Coverage - the percentage of eligible women screened in the last 3 ½ years – increased from 72.5 per cent to 74.0 per cent.
• The number of women invited in the 50 to 64 age group increased by just over 172,000 to reach 816,000, while the number tested increased by nearly 19,000 to reach nearly 669,000.
• 44.6 per cent of test results were sent out by primary care organisations to women within two weeks of screening, compared to 21.4 per cent the previous year.
Mr Straughan added: "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 per cent."