Experts to review evidence on cervical cancer screening age
The government has announced a review of evidence about the most effective age to routinely screen women for cervical cancer.
At present, the NHS cervical screening programme in England invites women from the age of 25.
This is in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation and reflects the advice of leading cancer experts in the UK.
- Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information, Cancer Research UK
Health minister Ann Keen has asked the independent Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS) to review the latest available evidence on the risks and benefits of screening in 20 to 24-year-olds.
The ACCS will also consider the likely impact of HPV vaccination on the future incidence of cervical cancer in England, as well as looking at awareness of the disease and possible ways to improve uptake of screening.
Experts will then report back to Ms Keen later this year and give their opinion on whether or not the screening programme should be extended to include women under the age of 25.
"We are very proud of our cancer screening programmes in the NHS, which are internationally recognised as world class," Ms Keen said.
"Cervical screening saves around 4,500 lives every year and we want to ensure that our programme remains in the best interests of young women.
"Experts will review the latest available evidence in this area as well as consider how we can increase awareness of the importance of screening and encourage more women to decide to take up this important service."
National cancer director Professor Mike Richards noted that it is important to look at any emerging evidence "so we can be sure, and can assure young women, that this is still what is best for their health".
He added: "Early detection and treatment can prevent around 75 per cent of cervical cancers developing in women so we will also look at what more we can do to highlight the importance and benefits of screening."
Cancer Research UK has welcomed the news of the review.
Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information, commented: "It's vital to consider any evidence that might suggest it's more appropriate to screen women under the age of 25 in England.
"The complexities of running a national screening programme mean that there are always hard decisions to make. So the evidence needs to be constantly reviewed and acted upon as it emerges.
"In the meantime, any women under 25 who have symptoms that give cause for concern - like bleeding between periods, pain during sex or an unpleasant discharge - should discuss them with their doctor. While these symptoms may not be due to cervical cancer, it's always better to get them checked out."
About 4.4 million women are invited for cervical screening every year in England and around 2,800 are diagnosed with the disease, with a further 24,000 receiving abnormal cervical screening results.