13 March 2019
The number of woman who have had a cervical screening test since it was made free in Jersey eight months ago has soared by more than a quarter, compared to the same period 12 months earlier.
And in a bid to improve numbers further, Health and Community Services has this month launched a social media campaign to encourage women aged between 25 and 64 to undertake the potential life-saving test when it is due.
Last year the Health Minister, Deputy Richard Renouf, and the Social Security, Minister Deputy Judy Martin, scrapped the fees charged to patients for cervical screening tests. This was an initiative started by the previous Health Minister, Senator Andrew Green.
Previously, the fees charged by GPs varied and could cost women as much as £62. However, since 1 June the charge was removed from Le Bas Centre, the island’s community contraception and well women clinic. The fee, which was recognised as a barrier preventing some women having the test, was also removed from all GP practices on 1 August.
Figures show that while the charge was in place, only about 66% of eligible women attended for screening.
However, in the period since the charge was cut an extra 765 women, who were due to have the screening, attended and had a test compared to the same period 12 months earlier. Figures show that 3712 women had the test between June last year and February - a 25.9% increase compared to the corresponding time frame 12 months previously.
Dr Linda Diggle, Head of Preventive Programmes, said: “Having cervical screening is a test to detect abnormal cells. Once detected, abnormal cells can be treated to prevent cervical cancer from developing.
“We’re delighted that more women who are due the test are coming forward and getting it done.
“If you are aged 25 to 49, you should attend for cervical screening every three years; if you are aged 50-64, you should attend every five years. We know that having cervical screening can be embarrassing so we’d encourage you to ask for a female doctor or nurse to take the test when booking the appointment.”
A social media campaign was also launched last year aimed at empowering women to take control of their health and to attend for their screening test when it is due.
This month, a further social media campaign has been launched geared at reinforcing the message that preventing cervical cancer by having the test is better than cure.
And doctors also wish to dispel myths around cervical screening after an e-petition was lodged on the gov.je website, calling for women under 25 to be allowed to have the test.
Dr Fiona Nelson, consultant gynaecologist, said: “It’s common for younger women to have abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which change back to normal and don’t increase the risk of cancer.
“Having treatment in the colposcopy clinic under the age of 25, for cell changes that would disappear on their own, could result in a slightly increased risk of premature birth in a future pregnancy plus cause unnecessary anxiety and distress for young women.”
Dr Nelson said that most HPV infections are sexually transmitted and added that 80% of people will get at least one type of HPV during their lifetimes. In most cases, especially for under 25s, the immune system gets rid of the HPV and the cell changes go back to normal.
“In this situation there is no increased risk of cervical cancer developing,” Dr Nelson said. “It’s because the risk of causing harm by screening early, rather than doing good, is greater in younger women that it’s very important not to have cervical screening under age 25.
“In Jersey, as in the UK, most women who are now just over the age of 25 would have been vaccinated as teenagers with the HPV vaccine after it came into use in 2008. By getting vaccinated so young, their chances of getting cervical cancer have been greatly reduced, but they still need to have screening once they reach 25. The good news is that, in the future, we expect vaccinated women won’t require screening as often as other women.”
Dr Nelson also advised women to reduce their risk of cervical cancer by stopping smoking: “We’re all likely to come into contact with HPV, but most of us will clear the virus. However, we know HPV persists for longer in women who smoke and it’s the persistence of HPV that is the problem. This is another good reason to stop smoking.”
Dr Nelson also urged women to seek specialist help if they have any concerns: “Any woman who has symptoms, whether it’s pain, bleeding after sex or between periods, or discharge – at any age – they should not delay seeing their GP for assessment and possible referral to our gynaecology clinic at the hospital.
“The screening test has no place in the investigation of symptoms, so please speak to your GP if you have symptoms.”