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23 January 2017, 15:31
Every day nine women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three women will lose their lives to the disease.
Cervical cancer is the most-common cancer in women under 35, but is largely preventable thanks to cervical screening and the HPV vaccination programme.
But new figures show that the number of women aged 25-29 who are being screened for cervical cancer is the lowest in any age group, with numbers falling year on year.
Surveys by cancer charities indicate that embarrassment and a lack of understanding of the causes of cervical cancer may be behind the decline.
In the South West, the take-up of screening among 25-29-year-olds is markedly lower than for eligible women of all ages. Latest data, from summer 2016, shows that more than 31,000 young women aged 25-29 had not been screened in the previous five years, out of 106,000 who were eligible.
Dr Julie Yates, Consultant in Public Health and Screening and Immunisation Lead in the South West, said: "We have noticed a fall in attendance of younger women over the past few years, and this decline in attendance for screening is now linked to showing a rise in the incidence of cervical cancer in women under 35.
"It is really important for young women to understand the importance of attending cervical screening when they receive a letter from their GP as it can detect pre-cancer abnormalities, which, if left untreated, may develop into cancer. Screening is a way of picking up these early problems in women who don't have any other symptoms and would not otherwise know there was an abnormality, as a preventative measure.
"The screening test is relatively simple, takes about 5 minutes and is performed by the practice nurse at your GP surgery. 95% of results will be normal and, of those that are not, the vast majority can be treated very easily and will never develop in to cancer. I urge women who may have received a letter and decided not to attend to reconsider and make an appointment - it really is very quick, it could prevent you needing more invasive treatment later on and could ultimately save your life."
The number of women dying from cervical cancer has halved over the past 28 years as a result of the NHS screening programme as well as improvement in treatment.
Despite this success over 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. The majority of women diagnosed with cervical cancer have delayed coming forward for screening, which has affected their ability to have early changes treated.