September was Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, and I had been working with various charities and organisations to promote awareness of various women’s cancer issues as well as signposting to the support and guidance that is available.
On Monday morning, I met virtually with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust – the leading cervical cancer charity in the UK – to learn more about cervical cancer, and about their work to provide information and support for women affected, as well as their campaign activities in pushing for excellence in treatment and prevention.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women under 35, with 99.7 per cent of cervical cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Hundreds of women die each year from cervical cancer, and this is largely preventable through a combination of cervical screening and the HPV vaccination; cervical screening can prevent around 75 per cent of cervical cancers.
Before the pandemic, cervical screening attendance in England was 71.9 per cent, meaning that on average 3 in 10 women don’t attend when invited. We do slightly better than average here in Sutton, with 73.2 per cent cervical screening attendance, and we are much better than average for the uptake of the HPV vaccine, with 89.2 per cent of women being vaccinated across our Borough as opposed to 83.9 per cent nationally.
However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays in cancer screening programmes, increased waiting times, backlogs in diagnoses, and changes to treatments.
Research from Jo’s Trust has found that:
- While 40 per cent of women would feel relieved to be able to attend cervical screening again, around 1 in 8 feel less likely to attend than before the pandemic.
- A further 13 per cent say they think it best to put off screening at the moment while 11 per cent said they were scared about safety.
- 36 per cent of women saying they are unsure of what to expect if they go to a GP practice for a cervical screening now.
The research also found that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women were less likely to attend including:
- 43 per cent say they definitely wouldn’t attend cervical screening or feel less likely to attend.
- More than twice as likely as white women to believe that delaying screening is the safest thing to do at the moment.
There are other psychological, cultural and literacy barriers to attendance including access and availability; survivors of sexual violence; people with disabilities; trans men and/or non-binary persons; and LGB women.
I will be raising these issues with colleagues on the Women and Equalities Committee, as well as with our local healthcare organisations, to see what can be done to support more women in Carshalton and Wallington to access support to help tackle, and prevent, cervical cancer. You can read copies of these letters below. I will also be tabling questions in the Commons on HPV vaccinations, cervical screening, and support for trans men and non-binary persons.
I am very grateful to Robert Music, Chief Executive, and Julia Tinsley-Kent, Communications and Public Affairs Officer, at Jo’s Trust for their time in updating me on the current position in Sutton, and on the Trust’s vital work. You can find more information on the Jo’s Trust website: https://www.jostrust.org.uk, including how to access their free support services and their free helpline.
As ever, if you are affected by any of these issues and I can be of help, please do let me know.