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AS SMEAR TEST UPTAKE DROPS, CERVICAL CANCER SURVIVOR SAYS: “A FEW MINUTES COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE.”

“My world collapsed when I was told I had cervical cancer. I thought my three-year-old son was going to be left without a mum and I would be dead at 25.” 

Heading for her first ever cervical smear appointment in 2013, Ashley Woehrle from Timperley was unaware of the ticking time bomb inside her and says that “without a doubt, the few minutes it took for a smear test saved my life.” Now cancer-free, she is urging those invited for cervical screening to attend their appointment.

Ashley says: “I felt great. I had a busy life combining work and a young child and had no idea anything was wrong with me. I could have very easily delayed the appointment, but then this would be a very different story.”

Ashley’s abnormal smear test result led to her being told she had cervical cancer. She explains: “At the time everything just stopped. I was 25 with a little boy and couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him. I ran out of the room and was totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t understand how this could happen to me. Now I’m so glad it was detected early. It’s an appointment that shouldn’t be missed.”

Recent NHS figures* show the number of those eligible between 25 and 64-years-old attending free cervical screening in England has dropped from more than 72% in March 2020 to 69.9% at March 2022. North West data also shows the uptake for cervical screening dropping from 74.4% at March 2020 to 70.6% at March 2022. And Trafford cancer screening figures reflect the same trend – a drop from 77.4% in January 2020 to 74.8% in September 2022.

Cancer Research UK reports there are around 3,200 new cervical cancer cases in the UK every year and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust states two people lose their life each day. But early detection through cervical screening can help.

In England, NHS cervical screening is offered to women and people with a cervix between the ages of 24.5 and 49 every three years and every five years for those between the ages of 50 and 64.

Dr Amal Hashim, Cancer Lead with Altrincham Healthcare Alliance Primary Care Network which includes Altrincham Medical Practice, Park Medical Practice, Shay Lane Medical Centre (Drs Cranston, Haslam and Connell), St Johns Medical Centre and West Timperley Medical Centre, said: “It’s vital to attend your cervical screening appointment when you’re invited especially as symptoms of cervical cancer are not always obvious or there may not be any symptoms of cervical cancer until the cancer’s at a later stage.

“Sometimes people can feel uncomfortable, nervous or embarrassed about going for this appointment. We also appreciate that some people may have cultural, personal or religious barriers which are stopping them from attending their smear test.  Please feel free to talk to a clinician who will be more than happy to reassure you and help you make an informed decision about your health.

“A lot of young women feel reassured because they have had their HPV vaccine, but this is only the first step toward preventing cervical cancer. The national cervical screening programme saves thousands of lives each year and remains the most effective way to detect any changes which may lead to cervical cancer.”

Altrincham Healthcare Alliance’s local GP practices offer evening and weekend appointments to encourage attendance and Dr Hashim urged: “If you are invited for a smear, please come along. And if you missed your last cervical screening, please book an appointment with your GP practice or sexual health clinic now.”

Having undergone a trachelectomy – surgery which removes the cervix – and being cancer-free for almost 10 years, Ashley is keen to encourage others to put their health first: “I’m worried there are thousands at risk with around 7 in 10 attending an appointment. My advice is don’t miss your smear test because those few minutes could save your life.”

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week runs from 23 – 29 January 2023