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The number of UK women taking advantage of the cervical screening tests they are offered every three years on the NHS is in decline, new statistics show.
Data from NHS Digital reveals that under three-quarters (72 per cent) of women aged between 25 and 64 went to their smear test appointment in the 12 months leading up to March 2017, compared to 75.7 per cent who attended screening appointments back in 2011.
During the 2016-17 period, some 4.5 million women were invited for a smear test, but just 3.2 million kept their appointment, meaning changes in their cervical health could be being missed, putting their health at risk.
Currently, all women aged 25 to 49 are invited for a screening every three years, while those aged between 50 and 64 receive an invitation every five years.
Over the last six years, however, the number of older women taking advantage of the free NHS cervical screening programme has fallen from 80.1 per cent to 77.2 per cent. Meanwhile, among younger women, there has been a drop from 73.7 per cent to 69.6 per cent.
Sophia Lowes, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, commented: "Cervical screening aims to pick up abnormal cells before cancer has a chance to develop, so we'd encourage women to think about taking part when they receive their invitation."
Director of screening at Public Health England Professor Anne Mackie added: "If women are embarrassed about having the test or worried about what the test results might say, they should talk to their GP who can explain why the test is important."
What's more, women who receive the HPV vaccine can reduce how often they need to attend cervical screening appointments, so GPs may want to advise those who are wary of smear tests to get the jab.
According to new research, receiving the vaccine can mean a woman only needs three smears in her entire lifetime, rather than one every three years.
Written by Martin Lambert
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