Screening helps prevent cervical cancer in older women

Cancer Research UK

Women who do not have cervical screening over the age of 50 are six times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer in later life, compared to women who had normal screening results during this time, according to new research* published today (Tuesday).

"With life expectancy increasing, it’s important for countries that stop screening under age 60 to look into their screening programmes to maximise the number of cervical cancer cases prevented and the number of cervical cancers caught at an early stage." - Professor Peter Sasieni

The study, led by Cancer Research UK scientists, underlines the importance of screening women over 50 for cervical cancer to prevent the disease. It provides evidence that women with adequate screening history and normal (negative) screening results** between age 50 and 64 have a lower risk of cervical cancer at least into their eighties.

Researchers examined data taken from 1,341 65-83 year-old women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer between 2007 and 2012, and 2,646 women without the disease.

In women who weren’t screened between the ages of 50 and 64, 49 cervical cancers were diagnosed per 10,000 women aged 65-83. This compared to eight cervical cancers per 10,000 adequately screened women with normal results.

Women who had been screened regularly but had an abnormal (positive) screening result between 50 and 64 had the highest risk of all - 86 cervical cancers per 10,000 women at age 65-83
The results suggest that cervical screening in women aged 50-64 has a substantial impact on cervical cancer rates not only at this age, but for many years after. The level of protection provided by having normal screening results declines over time, but even women in their eighties with adequate screening history and normal results had a lower risk of cervical cancer compared to those who were not screened.

Professor Peter Sasieni, Cancer Research UK’s expert on cervical screening and co-author from Queen Mary University of London, said: "Screening up to the age of 65 greatly reduces the risk of cervical cancer in the following decade, but the protection weakens with time and is substantially weaker 15 years after the last screen. With life expectancy increasing, it’s important for countries that stop screening under age 60 to look into their screening programmes to maximise the number of cervical cancer cases prevented and the number of cervical cancers caught at an early stage."

The research showed screening was similarly effective for those women who were screened every five years between 50 and 64, compared to those screened every three years at the same age.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, women between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for screening. Between the ages of 25 and 49 women are screened every three years. Between the ages of 50 and 64 women have screening every five years.

In Scotland, women between 20 and 60 years are invited for screening every three years. Scotland will also extend screening for women up to the age of 64 from 2015.

Jessica Kirby, Cancer Research UK’s senior health information manager, said: “These results provide reassurance that there is a real benefit to women over 50 having cervical cancer screening. Screening can pick up abnormal cells in the cervix that could develop into cervical cancer if left alone – removing these cells prevents cancer from developing. Screening is a great way of reducing the risk of cervical cancer, and saves up to 5,000 lives a year in the UK. We encourage women to take up cervical screening when invited.”

ENDS

For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

 

References

* Castanon A, Landy R, Cuzick J, Sasieni P. (2014) Cervical Screening at Age 50–64 Years and the Risk of Cervical Cancer at Age 65 Years and Older: Population-Based Case Control Study. PLoS Med 11(1): e1001585. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001585

Notes to Editor

** Adequate screening was defined in this study as at least three cervical screening tests at age 50–64 years with the last one over age 60, the last three of which were negative, and no evidence of high-grade abnormalities.

For the latest statistics on cervical cancer visit: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/types/cervix/