Study suggests cervical screening has little benefit for under-25s

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new study by Cancer Research UK-funded scientists at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London provides support for the government's decision not to lower the age of cervical screening below 25.

The researchers studied 4,012 women aged 20 to 69, who had been diagnosed with cervical cancer between 1990 and 2008.

They also looked at data on a further 7,889 women of a similar age, none of whom had ever been diagnosed with the disease.

Among the women involved in the study, screening between the ages of 22 and 24 was not found to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer over the next five years.

But among older women, screening was shown to be beneficial and was associated with a 60 per cent reduction in cervical cancers in 40-year-olds and an 80 per cent reduction among 64-year-old women.

In particular, cervical screening was found to be effective at preventing advanced cancers in older age groups.

Writing on bmj.com, the researchers pointed out that the HPV vaccine that girls now receive at 12 years of age should now make the risk of cancer before the age of 25 so small that screening would not be justifiable in this age group.

They conclude that they found "no evidence that screening women aged 22 to 24 reduced the incidence of cervical cancer at ages 25 to 29" and that their findings "should aid policymakers in making their decisions".

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information, said that the study provides more evidence that cervical screening under the age of 25 has "no real benefit in preventing young women from developing cervical cancer".

"But of course we remain concerned about women under 25 who have symptoms so it's crucial that young women who experience bleeding between periods, pain during sex or have an unusual discharge - talk to their GP and have the appropriate tests.

"Most cases of cervical cancer are preventable and we urge all women to attend their screening appointment when invited."