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Only a third of women in their 60s undergo all NHS cancer screenings

Take-up is especially low among smokers and the unemployed

Only a third of women in their 60s take up all the free cancer screenings offered by the NHS, researchers have found.

In England, women are invited for screening for three types of cancer concurrently in 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 she turns 65.

However, the study by King’s and Queen Mary University of London of just over 3,000 eligible women found just 35% took part in all three screening programmes; 37% participated in two programmes; 17% accessed one type of screening; and 10% were not screened at all.

They also found that general practices 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 said that in order to lower the chances of dying from certain cancers, it is important for the population to attend all offered screening programmes.

“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,” Rebolj advised. “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.”

Senior author Professor Stephen Duffy, from Queen Mary University of London, added that since most women had at least one form of screening, there isn’t an objection to screening as a whole.

“However, individuals find some screening procedures less acceptable than others, so the key to improving participation is making the screening experience better,” he said.