ALARMINGLY fewer women are taking a cervical cancer test which could save their lives, health officials have warned.

Figures released today, which sees the start of Cervical Screening Awareness Week, show that almost a quarter of women eligible to be tested in Swindon fail to respond to invitations for screening.

The shocking figures come five years after the death of television personality Jade Goody’s high profile battle with cervical cancer.

The Big Brother 2002 winner’s legacy was to raise awareness of the disease in young women after she was diagnosed when she was just 26.

Sarah Wharton, 36, of Lyneham, said that taking the smear test meant her sister-in-law Charlene Surtees had more time with her family before she lost her struggle with the disease in January this year.

Sarah, who had her head shaved in Charlene’s memory in April, said: “I think she wouldn’t have lasted as long as she did if she hadn’t taken the smear test and she wouldn’t have got the treatment as quickly as she did because she would have been none the wiser.

“Charlene went for a smear test on a regular basis and about 18 months ago they diagnosed her with cervical cancer. It came out of the blue.

“She had chemotherapy and radiotherapy and she was given the all-clear, but about six months later she went back for a checkup and they told her it was terminal. It had spread through all of her body.”

Now Sarah is urging other young women to take the test which could save their life.

She said: “It only takes a couple of minutes and I know it’s uncomfortable for a couple of people but it could save your life and it’s just worth getting it done.

“Please, please go and get tested. It really could save your life.”

Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show that up to March 2013, only 71.1 per cent of 25 to 49 year old women in Swindon invited to take a smear test responded, compared to 72.6 per cent in 2012.

The data also showed that fewer women in Swindon received the test in the period 2012/2013 than the national average, with only 77.5 per cent of all eligible women aged 25 to 64 taking the test in Swindon compared to 78.3 per cent of women in England.

Dr Ardiana Gjini, Consultant in Public Health Lead for cervical screening NHS England (Bath, Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire) said: “We know women lead busier lives than ever, with work and family pressures, but it would be a tragedy to see a rise in cancer deaths because of this.  

"The number of women responding to their screening invite has been low especially for women younger than 35.  Worryingly it is also these women in their 30s who have the highest rates of cervical cancer. 

“Women can rest assured that the quality of our local NHS screening programme is of very high quality. I would like to encourage all women who are considering screening to take up the offer.”

Now the Eve Appeal, which raises funds and awareness for research into gynaecological cancers, is determined to end preventable deaths by encouraging women to take their test.

Robert Marsh, CEO of The Eve Appeal, said: “Our hopes are that increased awareness around the importance of regular screening, along with further understanding as to what the screening is set out to detect, will help dispel any outstanding myths and encourage women to attend their cervical screening promptly when invited.

“The earlier cervical cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome will be. Screening is free and can save your life.”

The decreasing numbers of women responding to their invitations for tests has also alarmed experts at Public Health England.

Richard Winder, deputy director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes at Public Health England, said: “Busier lifestyles often make it more of a challenge for women to attend their cervical screening appointments, but regular screening remains the best preventative measure against cervical cancer.”