Cervical cancer hotspots mapped – where millions of women shun smear tests

Cervical cancer hotspots mapped – where millions of women shun smear tests

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SCREENING saves lives by detecting cancers at an early stage and in some cases, even preventing them from developing in the first place.

Cervical cancer is one of the three screening programmes available in the UK – yet every year millions of women skip theirs.

This map shows the places in England where cervical cancer screening rates are at their lowest - with London coming out worst
This map shows the places in England where cervical cancer screening rates are at their lowest – with London coming out worst

In fact, experts have warned that around three million women in England haven’t had a smear test for over three years.

New research has now revealed the towns and cities across England where women are at greatest risk of developing the deadly disease.

Analysis of the latest figures from Public Health England by Better2Know shows that they are more likely to avoid screening appointments in some areas more than others.

Women aged between 24 and 49 are eligible for screening every three years, while women aged between 50 and 64 should be screened every five years.

The screening rate in London is particularly poor and its boroughs make up 20 of the top 25 areas in England with the lowest screening rates.

Nearly half of women in Westminster, West London and Camden end up not attending an appointment within the target period.

Screening shunned

Outside of the capital, around two in five women in Bradford do not attend an appointment within the target period.

The screening rate in cities including Bradford, Leicester, Luton, Manchester, Birmingham and Portsmouth is also around five per cent to 10 per cent lower than the national average.

The cervical cancer screening rate in England has been falling year-on-year, with only Trafford in Manchester, South Sefton in Liverpool and Southport And Formby in Merseyside bucking the trend with small increases in screening rates.

Anthea Morris, sexual health expert and co-founder of Better2Know, said: “Nationwide screening rates for cervical cancer are dropping year-on-year.

“Our advice is that all women should have a regular cervical cancer screening.

“Your GP will know when your last screen was, and it is important to attend as early diagnosis and treatment are key to increasing cervical cancer survival rates.”

Too embarrassed

Cervical cancer is notoriously hard to pick up early but a smear test is your best chance of detecting issues before cancer is even on the cards.

A survey of more than 2,000 women by charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found a third of young women were too embarrassed to go to their test because of their body shape.

While 33 per cent were worried about the shape of their vulva and two fifths were worried about the smell.

The charity is running its #EndSmearFear campaign this week, which aims to normalise chat about smear tests, cervixes and vaginas by encouraging people to search for the best emoji to represent female genitalia on social media.

Love Island star Maura Higgins got involved, tweeting:  “Smear tests aren’t always easy so let’s help #EndSmearFear by talking more about them.

We want to help reduce some of the fear and uncertainty around smear tests


Kate SangerJo's Cervical Cancer Trust

“I got the nation talking about Fanny Flutters now let’s do the same with vaginas, cervixes and smear tests!

“Starting with a hunt for our favourite vagina emoji. Mine is definitely [butterfly emoji].”

Kate Sanger, head of communications at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust said: “We want to help reduce some of the fear and uncertainty around smear tests and have seen first-hand the power of social media in doing this.

“We’re pleased to be working with Twitter to see smear tests, cervixes and vaginas talked about as normally as using an emoji.

“By encouraging positive conversations we hope more women will feel comfortable asking questions, know where to find support and feel able to book a test if they choose to do so.”


Smear tests don’t test for cancer, but rather they detect abnormal cells on the cervix – the entrance to the womb.

These abnormal cells can indicate if a woman is at risk of developing cervical cancer, and so the test helps doctors spot the earliest signs of the disease.

By ensuring you take up the invitation to have smear tests regularly, you give yourself the best chance to avoid the disease.


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