Have you ever received a cancer screening? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. New research from King's College London and Queen Mary University of London and published in the Journal of Medical Screening shows that despite many programs offering free cancer screenings, only about a third of people take part in all those that are offered.
The study looked particularly at the population of women over 60 because when women turn sixty years old, they begin are eligible to receive cancer screenings for cervical cancer (final screen), breast cancer (every 3 years), and bowel cancer (every 2 years). It is important to note, also, that in England, where the study was conducted, the NHS provides these screenings for free.
"To lower the chances of dying from certain cancers, it is important for the population to attend all offered screening programs," said lead author Dr. Matejka Rebolj. “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.”
Dr. Reboli is referring to the study’s conclusions that of the 3 thousand women they analyzed, 35% took part in all three screening programs; 37% participated in two programs; 17% accessed one type of screening; and 10% were not screened at all.
Senior author Professor Stephen Duffy from Queen Mary University of London added, "These results demonstrate the inequalities in cancer screening participation, with the lowest levels of participation in the areas of highest deprivation. Since most women had at least one form of screening, we know that 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. We've seen this work with a new and less burdensome test in bowel cancer screening, which was considerably more acceptable and resulted in a substantial increase in uptake. Most encouragingly, the greatest improvements in uptake were seen in those who previously had the lowest participation levels."
The study also concluded that certain subpopulations of the women analyzed were more or less likely to get screened. For example, umemployed women and smokers showed a lower rate of take-up of all three screening programs while women in better-off neighborhoods and areas where clinics show a high level of patient satisfaction tended to access more of the cancer screenings.
"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 programs. 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 60-year olds," comments Dr. Reboli.