Cervical cancer – campaigning to save lives

It was fantastic to hear that at virtually the same time as I was meeting Rachel Bennet last Friday, the Government was announcing a review which could end up saving lives – and which the determined campaigning of this young woman had helped bring about.

An expert panel will report later this year to see if cervical screening should be offered to women in England aged 20-24. At present only women over 25 are offered smear tests, even though in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the tests are offered from age 20.

Rachel is a 22 year old photographer who lives in Derby. Just a year ago, as a student, she experienced symptoms which led her to believe she had cervical cancer. Despite opposition from her original GP, who told her she was too young to contract the disease, she was proved right, in time for effective treatment.

But she knows she was lucky. There are women under 25 with this disease who will have no symptoms and will not be offered a smear test to pick up abnormal cells.

Working with Jo’s Trust, a group campaigning for action and greater awareness of cervical cancer, Rachel will present a petition this week to the Prime Minister. Containing an impressive 15,000 signatures, it will show just how many people want to see the age limit for routine smear tests lowered from 25 to 20.

As joint chair of Politicians for Cervical Cancer Prevention, I’ve campaigned for the introduction of national cervical cancer vaccination programme for young girls, which launched last September.

Cervical screening already saves around 4,500 lives every year. Early detection is crucial to help prevent cervical cancers developing. Offering screening to women from age 20 could save even more lives.

We’re all encouraged that the Government will carry out a review, but Rachel and others will keep up the pressure. As she says. ”I had symptoms and my cancer has been treated. I was fortunate. Other women under 25 may not be so lucky.”

She now plans to take the message to universities and colleges, and at our meeting, we discussed various plans to help raise awareness there, whatever the result of the Government review.

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  1. Martin Meenagh says:

    I know no end of women who’ve been struck by ovarian or cervical cancers. These were silent killers, but I’ve noticed more people getting the life saving treatment they need (including my mother)by catching things early. I approve of any effort to extend screening, and agree with every word you wrote; in fact, I was struck by jade Goody’s courage and dignity and by how many she may have saved by encouraging screening.

    I hope that this isn’t a party political issue, or a ‘feminist’ one. It touches all of us.

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