Cancer screening do you go for your smear test or mammogram?

breast-side-viewThere have been two articles out this week that discuss why people do (and don’t) go for cancer screening.  Both studies looked at women’s breast cancer and cervical cancer.

In Scotland women are offered a cervical smear test every three years from the age of 20 to 60. In England the tests start at age 25. They usually send you a leaflet explaining the test with your appointment (you can read the leaflet the website, it is available in several different languages.)

In Scotland women are offered breast screening every three years from the ages of 50 to 70. You can read more about what is involved in a leaflet available from

One of the articles, was published in the British Medical Journal and asks is cancer screening benefiting everyone equally.  You can read about the study on the Cancer Research UK Science Update Blog. Basically the richer you are the more likely you are to go for breast screening (people who owned a car and their own home were more likely to go than those who didn’t).  The researchers said that breast screening is usually carried out at regional centres, so having a car would make it easier to get there, whereas cervical screening is usually done at your GP’s.  There are two mobile breast screening units in Grampian, I tried (and failed) to find out where they are just now, but if you know please leave a comment below.  I was surprised to discover that around 80 % of breast cancer screenings in Scotland are carried out in a mobile unit.  I thought the number would have been lower.  Mobile units can reach rural communities making it more likely that people will attend their appointments.

When the researchers looked at the effect of ethnicity on screening uptake they found that it didn’t make any difference for breast cancer rates (i.e.  you were just as likely to go for your mammogram if you are White British, or Black British etc).  They found that people from ethnic minorities were less likely to go for smear tests (cervical screening).  Previous studies have shown that woman born outside the UK are less likely to go for cervical smears that those born in the UK.  More research needs to be done on this.

The second study is reported on the Science News Daily website, they say that some people go for screening because they are afraid of getting cancer while other women don’t go for screening because they are afraid they’ll find out they have cancer.  The study looked at more than 5,000, including women in the UK and the US. The study also points out that healthcare workers assume that women will ask for information if they want to know more and often underestimate how much people want to know.

In Grampian 83 % of eligible women went for breast screening in the three year peroid from 2004-2007 (women are invited every three years) and 81 % of the eligible population had been screened for cervical cancer in the previous 3.5 years in 2005/2006 [Data from NHS ISD] Both figures are better than the national average.

I have previously written about Cervical Cancer in Scotland. Screnning saves at least a thousand lifes a year in the UK. Attending your smear or mammogram is important. Please feel free to leave your comments on these studies below.


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