Our policy on cervical cancer screening

Following UK National Screening Committee’s recommendation to introduce Human Papillomavirus (HPV) as the primary screening test, HPV testing should be rolled out nationally.

Since the introduction of a systematic cervical screening programme in the 1980s, rates of cervical cancer have almost halved. Although cervical screening using Liquid Based Cytology (LBC) is an extremely effective programme, improvements are possible. 

Testing for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) as the first test for cervical screening has been shown to save even more lives than the current test – research suggests that this could be an additional 150 women a year. The method of collection would remain the same, and women who test negative for the virus need to be screened less often – maybe up to every 5 years instead of the current 3 – reducing the number of tests they need. For this reason, switching to HPV testing would also save the NHS money once set up. 

Rather than finding abnormal cells in the cervix, it detects the common, sexually transmitted virus which causes most cases of cervical cancer, HPV. Currently HPV testing is only used to triage borderline LBC results.

The positive results from pilots led to the recommendation from the UK National Screening Committee to introduce HPV as the primary test. The Government must now confirm they will introduce HPV testing as the primary test to the cervical cancer screening programme with a transparent timetable of implementation. We believe there is enough evidence of the improved effectiveness of the test to plan for national rollout of the programme across all four nations. 

Coverage of the cervical screening programme is currently 73.5% in England (link is external)70.4% in Scotland (link is external)78.0% in Wales (link is external) and 77.1% in Northern Ireland (link is external)[PDF]. Improving awareness and uptake of cervical screening would increase even further the effectiveness of the programme, preventing more cervical cancer deaths.

Women are currently invited to be screened from age 25-64 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and from 20-60 in Scotland. However, all nations will soon screen from age 25. This change is being made because the evidence suggests that screening isn’t effective in women younger than 25. In these younger women, temporary changes to the cervix are common that may be detected by screening and treated that will return to normal and not develop into cancer.

Consultation responses

CRUK response to UK NSC consultation on HPV as primary test

November 2015

Download the response [PDF]

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Local stats

For your local stats, tailored for your constituency, visit the Local Cancer Statistics website. 

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