Cervical Cancer Screenings are at a 20-year low – Is the Jade Goody Effect fading?

Cervical Cancer Screenings are at a 20-year low – Is the Jade Goody Effect fading?

By Emily Ruse,  Deputy Registered Manager

After Jade Goody died of Cervical Cancer in 2009, nearly 500,000 extra women attended their smear tests. However, ten years on and the number of screenings has reached a 20-year low. Why?


It’s been ten years since Jade Goody’s death in 2009 and the finer details of her appearance on various reality television shows seem to have been more or less forgotten. However, Goody, who died at the age of 27, has had one lasting impact: The Jade Goody Effect. According to the Guardian, her highly publicized and tragic battle with cervical cancer resulted in an increase of almost 500,000 more women than average getting their smear test between 2008 and 2009. Jade’s legacy was one of raising Cancer Awareness.

According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, one in four women aged 25-39 don’t attend their smear test. This is in spite of the fact that 1,000 British women die of cervical cancer every year. Early detection and treatment through cervical screening in the UK can prevent up to 75% of cervical cancers from developing. But, why then are women so resistant?

Cervical Cancer, in 99.9% of cases, is caused by HPV, an infection that many people – both men and women – will contract at some point in their lives, via sexual contact. Due to the infection’s proliferation, and the fact that HPV doesn’t actually go on to display any specific symptoms, detection and prevention of its most deadly effect – cervical cancer – is crucial through regular cervical screening.

Cervical cancer mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30-45 in the UK. Approximately 3,000 women are diagnosed with it every year. In England, women are called to get their first smear test aged 25, while women in Wales are asked at 20. However, it’s extremely rare for a woman to be diagnosed with cervical cancer between the ages of 20-25.

It is recommended that women get tested every three years until they are 49. After that, in England, they will get tested every five years, until the age of 64. Because cell changes occur many years before cancer develops, the cervical screening programme has been very successful overall. It was first introduced in the 1980s, and the number of cervical cancer cases has decreased by about 7% each year.

Our RGN nurse, Letitia, who carries out cervical screening here at the clinic tells us that “For women who find cervical screening daunting, it may be helpful to book time with the nurse beforehand to discuss the screening process and any specific issues which may be concerning them.”

Women of any age who bleed after sex, between periods or experience pain or abdominal discharge are advised to speak to their GP, but a combination of factors – on top of fear of pain – put women off pursuing medical advice. Anxiety about talking about genitalia with a doctor often makes Google a more attractive resource for young women. And according to the Telegraph, formal sex education has proved so shoddy that 50% of 26-35-year olds struggle to even label their vagina on a diagram.

But, as our Nurse Letitia, a former Cervical Screening trainer says, “It’s so important that women engage with regular cervical screenings to ensure that their cervical health is maintained and that any potentially serious changes can be identified and treated early, long before cancer can begin to develop.”

But how do we make that happen? Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust explains “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to increasing Smear Test attendance which is why it is so important that politicians, policy makers and health professionals are investing in targeted approaches to tackle the barriers which exist for women of every age, ethnicity, location and circumstance.”

To feel confident to discuss and seek help for gynecological problems as and when they arise, not just when smear tests come around again, young women must be provided with the correct tools to do so. This means all-around industry changes such as sensitive and attentive medical professionals, especially in the case of painful and traumatic smear tests and their follow-up procedures; increased awareness of the importance of health screening as well as a robust and compulsory sex education system. We need more research into how the most dangerous strains of HPV can be eliminated or successfully vaccinated against.

We are on a mission to make subjects surrounding women’s health less taboo and we would like all women, no matter their age, to feel confident and able to discuss any issues that they make have with a medical professional. Anyone who comes to our clinic should feel comfortable knowing they will be treated with the highest levels of dignity and respect.