A new film featuring Black women having ‘life-saving conversations’ was released as part of a national campaign calling on those eligible to attend their cervical screening. This, after a new survey revealed that one in ten (11%) Black women who have been invited to screening have never attended, higher than the 7% England average.
Influential women are calling on Britain’s black Christian community to take note of the major new national campaign led by The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), with the support of NHS England and NHS Improvement, aiming to increase the number of those eligible attending their cervical screening in England.
The new Help Us Help You – Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign urges women and people with a cervix not to ignore their cervical screening invite, and if they missed their last one, to book an appointment with their GP practice now. Latest figures at March 2021 show that nearly a third (30%) of eligible individuals – women and people with a cervix aged between 25 and 64 – were not screened.
As part of the campaign, a new survey of 3,000 women and people with a cervix commissioned by DHSC revealed that 11% of Black respondents who have been invited to screening have never attended, higher than the 7% England average. The survey also revealed a number of concerns around cervical screening. Across England, embarrassment was the most common reason for having never attended or missing an appointment (stated by 42% of respondents), followed by those who “kept putting it off” (34%) and “being worried it would be painful” (28%).
To tackle these barriers and help drive uptake, a new film has been released featuring Dr Vanessa Apea discussing cervical screening with Black women and answering their questions. Dr Apea also encourages those eligible to book their appointment when invited and contact their GP practice if they missed their last screening.
Dr Vanessa Apea said: “It’s so important for us as Black women to talk about cervical screening so that we can address concerns and misconceptions. Cervical screening can help stop cancer before it starts. The symptoms of cervical cancer are not always obvious and there may not be any symptoms at all until it’s reached an advanced stage. Screening saves thousands of lives every year, which is why it’s important that we attend all our cervical screening appointments when we’re invited.” Around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England each year and 690 die from the disease– around two deaths a day. Previous estimates suggest screening prevents 70% of cervical cancer deaths, but 83% could be prevented if everyone attended regularly.
Church leader, and founder of ministry organisation Wisdom for Women International Pastor Marjorie Esomowei has lent her voice to the campaign. She said, “There’s an old saying which states prevention is better than cure. Attending your cervical screening when you are invited, is one of the best preventative measures you can take and demonstrates that you are taking responsibility for your health. Cervical cancer is a preventable cancer, so I encourage you to play your part in maintaining good health by attending your cervical screening appointment when invited, and encourage those you love to get screened if they are overdue a test.”
Becca Folkes, a popular gospel singer said: “I would encourage all women aged 25-64 to book an appointment for their cervical screening when invited. The nurses will do all they can to ensure that you are comfortable during the process and allay any fears or embarrassment you may feel. I think it’s a great thing that women have an opportunity to have cervical screening that has the potential to stop cervical cancer before it starts. It only takes a few minutes and could save your life.”
Singer and founder of international singing school Singercise Rachel Kerr has joined the campaign to help raise awareness of cervical screening and encourage uptake within the community. She said: “Two women die a day because of cervical cancer yet it is one of the most preventable cancers. Don’t let shame or embarrassment stop you from attending your cervical screening. Let’s take responsibility for our health and encourage our friends and family to attend their appointment when invited so more lives can be saved.”
The campaign emphasises that screening, which only takes a few minutes, can help stop cervical cancer before it starts. Cervical screening checks for high-risk types of the Human Papilloma Virus (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. Any cervical cell changes can be treated, preventing cervical cancer. That is why attending screening appointments is so important.
Top tips for women attending cervical screenings:
● If you are feeling nervous or embarrassed, talk to your nurse or doctor during the test – they can put your mind at ease and answer all your questions
● If you feel uncomfortable about being exposed from the waist down, wear a skirt, dress, or long jumper which you can keep on during the test. Don’t worry if you forget – you’ll be provided with a disposable modesty sheet to cover yourself
● The tests are usually done by a female nurse but don’t be afraid to ask for a nurse or doctor of a particular gender when booking your appointment.
● If you find the screening painful you can ask for a different size speculum or the nurse can advise you on different positions to make it more comfortable
● You can listen to music or a podcast or ask your nurse about breathing exercises – this may help you relax or distract you
● Don’t be afraid to talk about screening with your friends and family! Everyone’s had different experiences, and discussing it may help when you go for your next appointment
Call to Action
● Don’t ignore your cervical screening invite – and if you missed your last screening book an appointment with your GP practice.
● Cervical screening only takes a few minutes – it’s a few minutes that could save your live
For further information about cervical screening, please visit www.nhs.uk/cervicalscreening