Third of women take up all offered cancer screenings

Researchers have found that despite free cancer screening programmes, only 35 per cent of women take part in all offered programmes.

The study, carried out from King’s and Queen Mary University of London, looked into women’s participation in all three programmes. Results showed that: 35 per cent took part in all three screening programmes; 37 per cent participated in two programmes; 17 per cent accessed one type of screening; and 10 per cent were not screened at all.

In England, women are invited for screening for three types of cancer concurrently in their sixties; for the last cervical screen before they exit the programme, for breast screening every three years, and for bowel screening every two years.

This means that an average woman aged 60 can expect to receive five or six cancer screening invitations by the time she turns 65. In England, cancer screening is provided by the NHS free of charge.

The authors also found that general practices with a higher proportion of unemployed patients and a higher number of smokers had a lower rate of take-up of all three screening programmes. Conversely, take-up was more frequent among practices in areas of less deprivation, with a higher proportion of women with caring duties, those with long-term health conditions, and those with a high level of patient satisfaction with the practice itself.

Lead author Dr Matejka Rebolj said: “To lower the chances of dying from certain cancers, it is important for the population to attend all offered screening programmes. It is worrying that only a third of women are up to date with all offered cancer screenings and that 10 per cent remained completely unscreened in the last round. Indeed, similar patterns have been reported from other countries too.

“It is crucial for us to look at the take-up rates in certain areas and in certain practices and address women’s preferences for future screening programmes. We need to understand and target specifically those women who obtain some screening, but decide not to take up all the life-saving screening that is offered to them by the NHS. It is important that policy makers now look at these findings to inform what can be done in the future to reduce the significant number of deaths in the over 60-year olds.”

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