Thousands of women shun life-saving tests in Norfolk, Waveney and Suffolk

Tens of thousands of women are shunning a life-saving test as figures show the proportion attending cervical screening in Norfolk, Waveney and Suffolk has fallen.

Cancer Research UK figures show around 1,000 women in the UK still die of cervical cancer each year, but a decline in screening means more than one-in-five women aged of 25 to 64 – and one-in-three under 35 – are rejecting the chance to prevent the disease from developing.

Today one Norfolk woman who put off her screening test only to be diagnosed later with cervical cancer joined health bosses in urging women to have the test.

Annmarie Pearson, who was 28 when told she had the cancer, said: 'It's a horrible, horrible thing to be faced with because at a young age especially you will most probably lose your fertility.

'And if you haven't had children you are robbed of that because of something preventable. And not only that, because you can lose your life.'

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NHS Norfolk has seen its uptake of cervical screening for 25 to 64-year-olds decrease from 81.3pc in 2005-06 to 80.3pc in 2010-11.

For NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney it fell from 80pc to 79.7pc and for NHS Suffolk from 82.4pc to 80.5pc over the same period.

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The figures for England have also dipped from 79.5pc to 78.6pc.

This means that in 2010-11, around 35,000 women in Norfolk invited to be screened did not go on to have a test. The figure is around 10,500 women in Great Yarmouth and Waveney and around 29,000 women in Suffolk.

Dr Jenny Harries, director of public health for NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: 'We have seen a slight decrease in the uptake for cervical screening across Norfolk and Waveney between 2005-06 to 2010-11. We have yet to review the data for 2011-12 in detail.

'Many women still die from cervical cancer each year and despite the very positive introduction of the HPV vaccine it is important that women of all ages in the screening programme continue to attend to be checked out. We understand women may not find the prospect of the screening test a pleasure but it is a vital tool in identifying a possible risk of developing what can become fatal cancer if left undetected.

'If you receive a letter saying you are due for your screen then please contact your surgery. Women who are worried about any aspect of the screening process can discuss it with their practice nurse or GP who are there to answer any questions you have about the test which could save your life.'

Government guidelines say women aged 25 to 50 should be tested every three years. Those 50 to 64 are advised to attend testing every five years.

Most cases of cervical cancer are linked to the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which causes pre-cancerous changes in cells. If detected in the early stages they can be treated to prevent them turning into cancer.

Around four out of five people will be infected with HPV at some point. It is estimated early detection and treatment through cervical screening could prevent up to 75pc of cervical cancers developing.

Mrs Pearson, who lives in Dereham with husband Andrew, had a smear test in June 2008, following an ectopic pregnancy, where a fertilised egg grows outside the womb. She assumed it was the same as a cervical screen so ignored letters reminding her to have the test. Six months later her GP said she needed the test as she had some of the symptoms of the cancer.

Mrs Pearson, now 32, had a rare trachelectomy operation which involved removing her cervix, which had cancerous glandular cells, and replacing it with a fake one to enable her to have children.

Although she can never have children because of a hysterectomy in November all the cancerous cells were successfully removed during the trachelectomy.

She said: 'The cervical screening can pick up so many stages before it becomes a diagnosis of cancer.

'If the test comes back with abnormalities, then abnormalities go through three steps before they turn in to cancer which means you have got a good chance to treat it when it won't have an effect on your fertility and won't have an effect in the long-term.

'I was six months late going for a screening and I don't know and I never will know if it would have been the same regardless but I do sometimes think if I had gone would this have happened to me?'

She was helped greatly by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust and has set up a local support group which met last night for the first time in Norwich. It is hoped it will meet bi-monthly.

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