A cancer survivor urges women not to ignore invitations for vital swab tests – after worrying figures showed uptakes have fallen across the region.
Michelle McGinty spoke out as new statistics showed just 70 per cent of eligible women aged 25 to 49 in West Dunbartonshire signed up for cervical cancer screening tests – below the national average.
Three years ago this value was 74 percent, a year later it dropped to 72 percent and in 2020/21 further to 70.7 percent.
In the 50 to 64 age group, 72.4 percent were screened in 2018/19, 71.8 percent in the following year and only 70.6 percent in 20/21.
Alexandria’s Michelle has previously made it clear that she would not have been alive had it not been for an unscheduled test during a doctor’s visit in 2016.
For 21 years she had opened and then discarded memories of cancer screening.
The devastating diagnosis prompted her to share her story, hoping her experience would raise awareness of the dangers.
But she fears years of campaigning have been lost and says the message outlining the importance of swab testing needs to be passed on.
She said: “It took about 20 years to get that message out and we’ve taken a massive step backwards with those numbers. So many lives have been lost to the pandemic, but so many lives have also been lost because cancer was not detected quickly enough.
“Cervical cancer is a silent killer and it is so important to catch it early.
“You often don’t get any symptoms until it’s advanced, so it’s really important to get tested.
“Smears are uncomfortable and not the most beautiful, but they save lives.
“If I had left my swab longer I wouldn’t be here – I know how lucky I am.
“Since my diagnosis, I have three grandchildren and another is on the way.
“If I hadn’t had this test, I might not have been there for it. It’s a scary thought.
“As women, we often prioritize everything else in our lives besides ourselves.
“We prioritize our children and our jobs, but if we don’t prioritize ourselves and our health, we may not be there for our children.”
Every day in the UK, two people lose their lives to cervical cancer. Screening is the best way to protect yourself from the disease, but one in three women in Scotland still doesn’t get a smear test, which can stop cervical cancer before it starts.
Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, who received the numbers, said more needs to be done through public awareness campaigns.
She said: “It is really worrying that fewer women in my constituency are now presenting for cervical cancer screening than three years ago.
“Research has found that in disadvantaged communities, cancer risk factors are more common, people are less aware of cancer symptoms, are less likely to participate in screening programs and shamefully report that they face more barriers when trying to seek help and care. The prospects for people in disadvantaged areas, including West Dunbartonshire, are far worse than in more affluent places.
“We can all help answer the call to take our swab tests, but the government and health departments also need to do more to encourage people in disadvantaged areas to attend these screening appointments through targeted awareness campaigns.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said she recently issued a renewed plea as part of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.
She said: “We continue to urge anyone who is due to have a cervical exam to come forward. This is by far the most effective way to detect cervical cancer early and is crucial to getting it treated as soon as possible.
“It’s understandable to be concerned about the swab test itself, but it’s the best way to prevent cervical cancer, so we’d like to encourage women in Greater Glasgow and Clyde to get in touch if invited; do not put it off and if you are concerned about cervical cancer symptoms please contact your GP immediately for advice.”
Health Secretary Maree Todd said: “A five-minute swab could save your life.
“Even if you expect everything to be okay, it’s important not to ignore your invitation because the test can help stop cervical cancer before it starts.
“The test looks for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer, and helps ensure that cell changes are detected and treated earlier.”