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Thousands missing out on life-saving cervical screening in Cornwall

Thousands of women in Cornwall are missing out on potentially life-saving cervical screening, statistics show.

And the pandemic has meant that fewer still are now taking up the free NHS offer, which is one of the best ways to protect against cervical cancer.

As of March 31, 2019, a total of 34,128 eligible women in Cornwall had not accepted their latest screening invitation but this rose to 38,916 for the same date in 2022.


Don't ignore your cervical screening invitation


This is why the Council’s Public Health team has launched a campaign urging eligible women, trans men and non-binary people to attend a cervical screening appointment.

Those aged between 25 and 49 are invited every three years while those in the 50-64 age group receive an offer every five years.

Dr Whitney Curry, Advanced Public Health Practitioner at Cornwall Council, said:

“It is really concerning that fewer and fewer women are taking up the offer of cervical screening.

“Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, yet in England two women die every day from it. Screening can help catch cancer before it starts so don’t ignore your cervical screening invitation and if you missed your last one, book an appointment with your GP practice.

“If you’re worried that you may find the test uncomfortable, have found screening difficult in the past or you're embarrassed about cervical screening, then you're not alone. Talk to the nurse or doctor doing the test so they can give you the right support and help to put you at ease.”

Dr Emma Kain, Screening and Immunisations Lead and Consultant in Public Health at NHS England South West, said:

"Screening helps prevent cervical cancer by checking for a virus called HPV which causes nearly all cervical cancers. This is the best way to find out who is at higher risk of developing the cervical cell changes that over time could potentially lead to cervical cancer. If found early, cervical cell changes can be treated, preventing cervical cancer."

Statistics show that before the pandemic around 76% of women in Cornwall were taking up the screening offer – but this has now dropped to as low as 72%.

At the end of 2021/22, 61,259 of 84,846 women aged 25-49 (72.2%) had taken up their latest cervical screening offer meaning 23,587 had missed out. Three years earlier, before COVID-19 struck, the figure was 20,753 with a 75% uptake.

The picture is slightly better for the 50-64 age group, with 44,937 of 60,266 women having accepted their latest screening offer by the end of 2021/22 (74.6%) compared to 42,578 of 55,953 in 2018/19 (76.1%). However, this still means that 13,375 were missing out before the pandemic compared to 15,329 now.

Public Health Cornwall and the local NHS hope to bring the number of women undergoing cervical screening back up to pre-pandemic levels, and ultimately hit the 80% national target for uptake.

Cllr Dr Andy Virr, Portfolio Holder for Adults and Public Health, said:

“Cervical cancer sadly claims the lives of hundreds of women in the UK every year and screening is the best way to bring that number down.

“Life can be hectic and it's easy to let your cervical screening appointment fall to the bottom of your 'to do' list, but it only lasts a few minutes – and it’s a few minutes that could save your life.”

What is cervical screening?

  • Cervical screening (a smear test) checks the health of your cervix. The cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina.
  • It's not a test for cancer, it's a test to help prevent cancer.
  • All women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 should be invited by letter.
  • Women will be invited to attend a screening appointment when they turn 25 and then every three years until they are 49. After that it is every five years until they are 64. After the age of 65, you will only receive an invitation if one of your last three tests was abnormal.
  • During the screening appointment, a small sample of cells will be taken from your cervix.
  • The sample is checked for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. These are called "high risk" types of HPV.
  • If these types of HPV are not found, you do not need any further tests.
  • If these types of HPV are found, the sample is then checked for any changes in the cells of your cervix. These can then be treated before they get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.
  • The nurse or doctor will tell you when you can expect your results letter.

For more information check out the NHS cervical screening webpage.

Press release published on August 11, 2022.

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