One in three women missed smear tests in Covid lockdown – putting them at risk of cancer

One in three women missed smear tests in Covid lockdown – putting them at risk of cancer

January 18, 2021

ONE in three women missed smear tests during the coronavirus lockdown putting them at an increased risk of cancer, a study has revealed.

Cervical cancer is an illness that develops slowly and experts have urged women to attend their appointments.

Research conducted by the Eve Appeal revealed that 72 per cent of women who had been invited for a screening had attended or were still waiting to attend, with 28 per cent not attending.

The research revealed that 21 per cent of women didn't attend due to worries surrounding Covid-19.

Other reasons for non-attendance included that many women felt the test "wasn't a priority".

Around 17 per cent of women didn't want to attend and an additional 15 per cent said they felt it was "too difficult" to have the cervical screening test.

The research also found that 17 per cent of women cited a previous bad experience as the reason for not attending their most recent appointment.

After the first lockdown in March 2020, it was reported that one in four women had been too scared to get their smear test due to Covid-19.

It was also estimated that around one million women missed their cervical cancer screening during the first lockdown.

The 5 early signs of cervical cancer you need to know

Cervical cancer can develop slowly and can be hard to detect – which is why it’s important to attend screening.

Vijaya Varilly ‘V’, was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, a less common form of cervical cancer that develops in the upper portion of the cervixcervical cancer, in 2020.

She said this makes it hard to detect via cervical screening, adding that this is one reason why it's so important for women to be aware of symptoms.

Vijaya said: "I experienced long periods of abnormal bleeding which didn't feel normal."

She was given the all clear within three months and said early diagnosis is critical – so what should you be looking out for?

  1. Abnormal bleeding (during or after sex, between periods and also post-menopause)  
  2. Unusual vaginal discharge
  3. Discomfort or pain during sex
  4. Lower back pain
  5. Unintended weight loss

If you have any worries or concerns regarding screening or symptoms Ask Eve, is available by phone and email: [email protected] or 0808 802 0019

While many women didn't attend their appointments due to coronavirus concerns, many are also reporting that they are finding it hard to book appointments in some areas.

This is for reasons such as a backlog of patients and capacity issues.

This Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, The Eve Appeal has urged women to book their smear tests.

The National Cevical Screening Programme is in place as a preventative measure.

It aims to prevent cervical cancer before it starts and The Eve Appeal says that it saves around 4,000 lives a year through early detection.

Every three to five years, all women between the age of 25 and 64 are invited for screening.

Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic and delays to referrals and to diagnosis can be devastating

The tests look for high strains of human papilloma virus (HPV).

This is known to increase the risk of cervical cancer and if high risk HPV is found then the sample will be checked for abnormal cells.

If these are detected at a "medium or high" grade then they will be removed.

Dr Bella Smith, GP and women’s health specialist said it's important that women remember that Covid doesn't stop cancer, and that it's more important than ever to attend your routine screening.

She said: "We realise it is a very anxious time for everyone but please do not be put off.

"The nurse or GP doing your screening will have all the correct measures in place to ensure that that the procedure is safe. If you are worried please talk to your GP or Ask Eve.” 

During the first lockdown the Ask Eve service saw 68 per cent of its calls and emails being focused on cervical screening.

Many patients had been left feeling anxious and confused about pauses in screening and were left worried that delays to cervical screening would result in a "worse" outcome.

Karen Hobbs, who runs The Eve Appeal’s Ask Eve nurse-led information service said screening is the most common topic the service receives calls on.

"We have seen a huge increase in people concerned about not being able to get an appointment, or their appointment being postponed. 

"Cervical cancer is a disease that typically develops very slowly, so whilst a few months’ delay to someone’s routine screening appointment is unlikely to make a difference to the test results, the cancellation of appointments and longer waiting periods have undoubtedly had a serious effect on stress and health anxiety levels.” 

Experts at The Eve Appeal are now setting out a clear message, if you're invited for screening – book the appointment.

CEO of The Eve Appeal, Athena Lamnisos said the coronavirus pandemic has caused confusion and concern for those needing to book non-urgent medical appointments over the past year.

Athena added: "Cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic and delays to referrals and to diagnosis can be devastating. If you have any concerns or worries about booking or attending an appointment, chat to your GP surgery or call our nurse-led information service Ask Eve. We’re here and open for you.”

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