A Yorkshire MP is urging women to get regular smear tests following a traumatic cancer scare as figures reveal cervical cancer screening rates are at their lowest for two decades.
Sarah Champion recently announced that she was six months cancer free after an operation to remove abnormal cells from her cervix.
The experience has made her determined to raise awareness about the importance of life-saving screenings, which many women avoid or forget to attend.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, the Rotherham MP said she first found out there was something wrong when she was sent for a biopsy following a routine smear test.
“The biopsy results came back positive for abnormalities and said that they were cancerous,” she revealed.
“So, then I went back and had to have surgery - just day surgery, where they cut away all the cancerous cells from the cervix.
“I didn’t have any chemotherapy or radiotherapy or anything else like that because it was caught so early. I had no symptoms whatsoever, so had it not been for the smear test I really wouldn’t have known that I had got anything and that is the problem.”
According to the latest figures from Public Health England, 270 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Yorkshire and the Humber every year.
However, one quarter of the region’s eligible women - those aged 25-64 - were not screened for the condition in 2017/18, and across England uptake for the examination is at a 21-year low.
Ms Champion stressed that the early signs - which can include abnormal bleeding, back pain and discomfort during sex - can be easy to miss. She warned: “You can get symptoms like that occasionally and you don’t really think anything of it. If it’s treated early it is very simple to treat. If it’s not caught and goes on then you are suddenly getting into some very scary times because it spreads and gets much more complicated. I was just really, really lucky.”
The MP, who has been a vocal campaigner on grooming and sexual violence, added that women who have suffered past abuse should not be put off getting regular check-ups.
She said:“There are a large number of women who have had past trauma, childhood trauma, sexual violence in their life, for whom going for a medical intervention like that is a very traumatic experience and so they just won’t go.
“What they need to do is go and speak to the nurse and explain their anxiety because the consequences of not doing that are really devastating and the nurses do understand the situation that some women are in and they can make it a lot more manageable.”
She also urged all girls to get vaccinated against the HPV virus - which can lead to cervical cancer.
To mark Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, which starts today, Ms Champion has teamed up with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to encourage more women to get smear tests. The charity’s chief executive, Robert Music, said: “Cervical screening provides the best protection against the disease yet attendance is at an all-time low. We want every woman to know how they can reduce their risk of the disease.”
Young women put off smear tests due to feelings of embarrassment and concerns about being hurt, a survey suggests.
New data from the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that those aged 25 to 35 are also put off by the idea of a stranger examining them.
Figures show that cervical screening rates among all ages are at their lowest for two decades. Almost one in three women aged 25 to 64 have not had a smear test within the timeframe recommended for their age. Some 220,000 British women are diagnosed with cervical abnormalities every year and there were 854 deaths from cervical cancer in England in 2016.