EastEnders storyline could boost smear tests

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HEALTH bosses in Eastbourne are hoping a recent EastEnders storyline will encourage more local women to have regular smear tests.

Fans of the long-running BBC One soap are currently glued to their screens as Albert Square regular Tanya Branning faces a battle with cervical cancer.

The show’s bosses have worked closely with experts and charities like Macmillan Cancer Support to make sure the storyline is as true to life as possible.

And NHS staff here in Eastbourne are now hoping the character’s diagnosis will provide the wake up call many local women need to book a test after stats showed around one in five women in East Sussex had not had an inspection in the last five years.

Around 3,000 women every year in the UK get the same form of cancer being highlighted on the small screen and, although cervical screening is not a test for cancer, it is a method of preventing it by detecting and treating early abnormalities which, if left untreated, could lead to the disease.

The first stage in cervical screening involves taking a sample from the cervix for analysis.

Early detection and treatment can prevent 75 per cent of cancers developing. Women aged 25-49 are invited for screening every three years and women aged 50-64 every five years. Results are usually fed back within two weeks.

However, in East Sussex, research has shown the percentage of eligible women who, at the end of December 2010, have had an adequate test in the preceding five years was 79.9 per cent – meaning 20 per cent had gone without.

Jenny Greenfield, who heads a cervical cancer screening programme in East Sussex, said, “Highlighting the importance of women having regular cervical screening tests in a popular TV soap is welcomed. Regular cervical screening saves lives.

“Any woman who’s not had their cervical screening test in the past three to five years should make an appointment with their GP practice, local family planning clinic or sexual health clinic.”

Although some forms of cervical cancer are becoming more common, it can be prevented if it is detected in the early stages and the NHS in Sussex is hoping the EastEnders storyline will see a similar boost in screenings as enjoyed in the wake of other soap or celebrity cancer cases.

Hundreds of thousands more women visited their GP for smear tests following the death of reality TV star Jade Goody in 2009 – creating what experts labelled ‘The Jade Effect’.