Attending cancer screenings

In a paper published in the Journal of Medical Screening, researchers from King’s College London and Queen Mary University of London have found that only 35% of women take part in all offered free cancer screening programmes.

Cancer screening In England, women are invited for screening for three types of cancer during their 60s - for the last cervical screen before they exit the programme, for breast screening every three years, and for bowel screening every two years. This means that an average woman aged 60 can expect to receive five or six cancer screening invitations by the time they turn 65. In England, cancer screening is provided by the NHS free of charge.

Researchers categorised a sample of more than three thousand eligible women in their 60s according to the last screening round. They examined women’s participation in all three programmes.

Results showed:

  • 35% took part in all three screening programmes
  • 37% participated in two programmes
  • 17% accessed one type of screening
  • 10% were not screened at all.

They also found that GPs with a higher proportion of unemployed patients and a higher number of smokers had a lower rate of take-up of all three screening programmes.

Conversely, take-up was more frequent among practices in areas of less deprivation, with a higher proportion of women with caring duties, those with long-term health conditions, and those with a high level of patient satisfaction with the practice itself.

Dr Matejka Rebolj, from King’s Health Partners Comprehensive Cancer Centre, said:

To lower the chances of dying from certain cancers, it is important for the population to attend all offered screening programmes.
We know from the official statistics that the majority of women are up-to-date with breast screening, but this drops to just over 50% when it comes to bowel screening.
It is worrying that only a third of women are up to date with all offered cancer screenings and that 10% remained completely unscreened in the last round. Indeed, similar patterns have been reported from other countries too.
 It is crucial for us to look at the take-up rates in certain areas and in certain practices and address women’s preferences for future screening programmes. We need to understand and target specifically those women who obtain some screening, but decide not to take up all the life-saving screening that is offered to them by the NHS. It is important that policy makers now look at these findings to inform what can be done in the future to reduce the significant number of deaths in the over 60s.

Read more on the King’s College London website.

As a European Comprehensive Cancer Centre, the King's Health Partners Cancer Clinical Academic Group brings together world-class clinical services, research and education for the benefit of cancer patients in south east London and beyond.