Cervical cancer could effectively be eliminated from the UK in the next three decades, according to a new study in The Lancet Oncology journal.
An estimated 70 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in East Sussex every year, according to the most recent figures from Public Health England – a rate of nine cases for every 100,000 women.
But scientists have predicted the cancer could soon be a thing of the past, after plotting the long-term effects of high levels of smear test screening and vaccination.
Professor Karen Canfell, who led the new study published in The Lancet Oncology journal, said: “Despite the enormity of the problem, our findings suggest that global elimination is within reach with tools that are already available, provided that both high coverage of HPV vaccination and cervical screening can be achieved.”
Women aged between 25 and 49 are invited for a cervical screening – also known as a smear test – every three years in England, while those aged 50 to 64 attend every five years.
Cancer charities have warned against complacency with screenings.
In East Sussex, the take-up rate for cervical screening has fallen for four consecutive years.
Only 74 per cent of the 134,100 women who were due a smear test before the end of March 2017 attended an appointment, meaning 35,276 missed out.
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is spread through any kind of skin-to-skin contact or sexual intercourse.
Girls in England are offered free HPV jabs at school during years eight and nine when they are aged between 12 and 14, to help protect them from the virus.
However, Public Health England figures show just 74 per cent of girls in East Sussex were given the recommended two doses of the vaccine by the end of year nine in 2017-18, one of the lowest rates in England.
This was a fall from the previous year, when 75 per cent of girls completed a full course of vaccination.
The figures mean 662 girls were left unprotected in 2017-18.
However, a spokeswoman for Public Health England said the immunisation programme was still ‘one of the most successful around the world’ and had helped protect millions of girls since its launch in 2008.
Across England, cervical screening coverage fell for the fourth year in a row last year.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said women are finding it increasingly difficult to access appointments.
He added: “We cannot sit back and let cervical screening coverage continue to plummet or diagnoses of this often preventable cancer will rise and more mothers, daughters, sisters and friends will be lost.”
The latest figures on new cervical cancer diagnoses cover 2011 to 2013.
Each year there are 3,126 new cases of cervical cancer in the UK and 854 women die from the disease.
Today, an estimated 99.8 per cent of cases in the UK are considered to be preventable.
• Report by Harriet Clugston, data reporter