It comes as a survey commissioned by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed that embarrassment was the most common reason for never having attended or missing a cervical screening appointment.
Nearly half (42 per cent) of respondents to the survey stated they were too embarrassed to attend a screening, while 34 per cent say they “kept putting it off. A further 28 per cent were “worried it would be painful”.
According to DHSC, the latest figures from March 2021 show that 30 per cent of eligible individuals – which are women and people with a cervix aged between 25 and 64 – were not screened.
The Help Us Help You – Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign urges those eligible to take up their cervical screening invitation and, if they missed their last one, to book a new appointment now.
The campaign is also backed by celebrities including Loose Women star Linda Robson, TV personality Scarlett Moffatt, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK contestant Victoria Scone, BBC presenter Louise Minchin and former Love Island contestant Sharon Gaffka, who is also a women’s rights activist.
The celebrities feature in a short film for the campaign, in which they discuss concerns around cervical screening and encourage those who are eligible to attend.
It will emphasise that screening can help stop cervical cancer before it starts, and is being supported by charities, including Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
As data shows that ethnic minority (black and South Asian) and LGBT+ communities face specific barriers to take up screening, the campaign will include activity targeted at these groups.
DHSC said around 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England every year and approximately 690 women die from the disease.
Previous estimates suggest screening prevents 70 per cent of cervical cancer deaths, but 83 per cent of deaths could be prevented if everyone attended regularly, the department added.
Results from the survey, which included 3,000 women, suggested that 15 per cent of lesbian or bisexual women over 25 have never had a smear test, compared with seven per cent of women over 25 in general.
The majority (89 per cent) of those surveyed said they were glad they attended a cervical screening.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and medical director for primary care at NHS England, said there was “no doubt” that cervical screening can help save lives.
“By screening for risk signs at an early stage, it means that any abnormal cells can be treated quickly before they potentially develop into cancer,” she explained.
“We know that it can feel embarrassing or feel like something that you can easily put off, but accepting your invite and getting checked could save your life.”
Gogglebox star Moffatt spoke of her own cervical screening experience as part of the campaign and said it “may have saved my life”.
“The screening detected HPV and abnormal cells linked to the development of cervical cancer, and I underwent treatment to have the cells removed,” she said.
“If I hadn’t been to that appointment, I don’t know what situation I would have been in now.”
Drag queen Scone also opened up about her experience with cervical screening as a queer woman, admitting that she was “uncertain” about whether the screening would be “imperative” for her.
“However, this new campaign has clarified that all women and people with a cervix, including those in the LGBT+ community like myself, are eligible for a screening, so I booked myself in,” she added.
“I think it’s so important to openly talk about cervical screenings and encourage each other to attend theirs.”
Helen Donovan, Royal College of Nursing professional lead for public health, said: “Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers in women and it is vital that when the letter comes to make an appointment for screening it is not ignored.
“Nursing staff know many women will have anxiety about the test but also how vital it is. They will be there to discuss those concerns and highlight the importance of screening.
“The check only takes a moment, can bring peace of mind, and specialist nursing staff will be there every step of the way.”