Thousands of young women could be putting their health at risk by failing to turn up for smear tests, according to an analysis of figures.
Every year, 660,000 women aged 25 to 29 are invited for screening in England.
But only 69.4% of them turned up in 2005/06, compared to almost 80% in 1995.
There are concerns that young women are embarrassed by the invasive nature of the procedure.
The data is an analysis of figures released last year by the Information Centre for Health and Social Care.
Those statistics showed that the number of women within the overall target 24 to 65 age group is increasing, but coverage dropped 0.8% in 2005/06 to 79.5%.
Today’s breakdown also suggests that more than 2,000 young women not having smear tests are likely to be found with the most abnormal cell changes, known as CIN3.
This means they are at higher risk of developing invasive cervical cancer if they continue to avoid testing.
Among 30 to 34-year-olds, attendance is down by around 800 per week compared with 1995, the breakdown showed.
That meant attendance fell from 84.3% in 1995 to 78% in 2005/06.
Professor Alison Fiander, gynaecological oncologist at Wales College of Medicine, University of Cardiff, said: “It is worrying that the very women most at risk of pre-cancerous cervical disease – younger women – are those who are choosing to stay away from screening in increasing numbers.
“CIN3 rates have been rising in women since the late 80s. The peak incidence occurs in the 25 to 29-year-old age group.
“Although cervical screening has reduced the number of cases and deaths from cervical cancer, the challenge is now to address an epidemic of CIN3 in young women.”
Dr Anne Szarewski, clinical consultant for Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s a big worry if young women start to miss their smears.
“The peak age for cervical cancer to strike is while women are in their late 30s, but it can occur earlier.”
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