Women invited to participate in the national health service cervical screening programme need to understand the potential benefits and harms in doing so and to be able to make an informed choice about whether or not they wish to proceed. Information provided to women must be honest, comprehensive and understandable. That is why the NHS Cancer Plan stated that all eligible women will receive a national information leaflet on cervical screening, which is now sent out with each invitation for screening and can be viewed at www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk
To raise awareness about the availability of cervical screening, NHS cancer screening programmes have issued a regional communications pack to all local cervical screening services. The packs include advice on raising the awareness of screening, including posters and supplement local activity to promote the availability of cervical screening. We encourage all women to make an informed choice on whether to accept their invitations to be screened.
We are aware of the concerns about the fall in the number of young women taking up their invitation to be screened. NHS cancer screening programmes are currently undertaking a piece of work exploring the reasons why these women do not attend. Preliminary results indicate that some women think screening will hurt or that the experience will be embarrassing. Another key factor may be that the programme is a victim of its own success, cervical cancer is now a relatively rare disease in this country thanks to the screening programme, and the public perception of risk may have diminished.
These findings, and any others that come out of this piece of work, will be fed into the next Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS) meeting in the spring and the ACCS will advise on future action.