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MSc student on track to boost cervical cancer screening attendance rates

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Linda receiving her award from the Cancer Society Research Fund

A Stirling student is expecting to boost cervical cancer screening attendance rates in Iceland by at least 5% after launching an innovative project as part of her MSc course.

Linda Karlsdóttir, who is studying Behavioural Science for Management at the University, teamed up with the Icelandic Cancer Society to introduce a new text messaging reminder service for eligible women to encourage them to book screening appointments.

Like most Western countries, Iceland has experienced a drop in attendance rates in recent years, with just 66% of those eligible completing screening. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide and regular screening has been shown to reduce the likelihood of cervical cancer by up to 90%.

Linda, who is originally from Iceland, said: “Most women recognise that screening is really important, and they do want to go to appointments, but often life gets in the way, other things take over and they just forget or put off making arrangements.

“Through this project, text messages, reminding women that they were due for screening, are sent between two and five weeks after an initial appointment letter is received. The messages are designed to increase participants’ motivation and reduce the hassle of booking an appointment. The clinic’s phone number is included and a link to the clinic’s booking webpage – enabling those due for screening to act immediately.”

The trial ran over four months, from February to May 2019, with approximately 6,600 women involved. Women were split into three sample groups, with the first receiving no extra reminders, the second receiving a text message including a simple appointment reminder, and the third was sent a text message containing a fact on the benefits of screening. Analysis of the attendance rate of cervical screening between these groups will continue until August.

Following the initial success of the initiative, Linda was awarded a £7, 500 grant from the Icelandic Cancer Society Research Fund to enable her to expand the project.

Linda said: “We are anticipating a 5% increase in the number of women attending smear tests. This would lead to approximately 84 additional diagnostics of women with moderate or severe pre-cancerous results per year, enabling these women to get early treatment.

“There is also likely to be a cost benefit to health centres, with the text messages, which replace a follow up appointment letter, proving to be significantly cheaper.”

Halldóra Hálfdánardóttir, Head Nurse of The Cancer Detection Clinic, said: “We are very grateful and excited about Linda’s research project and hope that the cervical screening participation will increase, as early results suggest.

“We will be able to use this method in the future and expand it in such a way that SMS reminders will be sent to all women who are eligible for screening. We are eagerly awaiting the final results.”

Linda is now hoping to secure a PhD and look at introducing a similar reminder scheme in Scotland to support cervical and breast cancer screening.

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