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SPEECH: Cervical Screening Uptake

I add my thanks to Monica Lennon for bringing this important debate to the chamber. The speeches that we have heard have driven home just how vital it is to highlight the issue. Some fantastic points have been raised.

Cervical cancer is the 14th most common cancer in females in the UK, accounting for around 2 per cent of all new cancer cases.

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a common virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. Cervical cancer screening is a great NHS success story. It has been available all my adult life and can pick up any abnormalities at an early stage, which allows painless treatment that prevents cancer. All women aged 25 and 64 are invited to attend cervical screening, and I can honestly say that I do not think I have ever missed receiving a reminder. The system works, and it saves 5,000 women’s lives a year throughout the UK.

In 2017-18, 378,382 cervical screening tests were processed in Scotland. For the past 10 years, the HPV vaccine has been offered to girls from secondary 1 to S3 in Scottish secondary schools, which is a fantastic public health initiative. The immunisation helps to protect against the types of HPV that cause 75 per cent of the cases of cervical cancer.

As we have heard, according to the report by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, 72.8 per cent of eligible women in Scotland aged 25 to 64 were recorded as having been screened yet, alarmingly, in Glasgow just 56 per cent of young women attended screening.

In Scotland, cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged between 25 and 35. As we have heard, research shows that, for most women who do not attend, the reason is that they are scared or embarrassed. We must reach out to young people and stress how important it is that they take the test. The test is to prevent cancer, not to find it.

I agree with Monica Lennon on trauma-informed screening and with Emma Harper on the self-test screening, which is positive news.

The test can be uncomfortable, but it takes less than two minutes—and that may be the most important two minutes a person can spend.

The take-up of screening is poorest among younger women and increases with age to peak at 50 to 54. In addition, the take-up of screening is highest among women from the least-deprived areas and falls with increasing deprivation. That is really worrying, as Alison Johnstone mentioned. Elaine Smith made a vital point about homeless and marginalised women not being screened, which is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Any abnormality will be picked up and dealt with. In 2017-18, only around 1 per cent of tests showed high-grade abnormality, with 7.2 per cent showing low-grade abnormality and almost 92 per cent being clear.

The take-up of cervical screening is higher in HPV-vaccinated women of all ages than in non-vaccinated women. That may be due to immunised women being more aware of the risks involved thanks to their education during the immunisation programme. Education is a key part of getting the message across. My hope is that screening becomes the norm for women and girls, just like going for dental check-ups or eye examinations—no big deal, just something that we have to do.

Let us get the message out loud and clear to women and girls: the test is too important to miss; it will give you peace of mind that everything is okay and, more important, it could save your life.

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