New guidance hopes to improve cervical cancer diagnosis in young women
New guidance has been produced to help GPs identify symptoms of cervical cancer and facilitate early diagnosis of the disease in young women.
In England, screening for cervical cancer starts at age 25. Cervical cancer is rare in young women but GPs still need to be aware of the symptoms so that they know when to refer them to a specialist.
The new guidance was produced after a working group of the Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS) found that young women who visit their GP with abnormal bleeding often experience delays in diagnosis because they do not receive a full pelvic examination.
Now, GPs who encounter these symptoms will be able to follow an algorithm so that they know how best to manage their patient and are reminded of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance on gynaecological symptoms.
Professor Sir Mike Richards, England's national clinical director for cancer, explained: "We have heard from a number of young women under the age of 25 who developed cervical cancer and they all had symptoms but did not receive a full pelvic examination to check for abnormalities in the cervix.
"To help GPs follow the correct procedure we have produced a pathway which maps the steps they need to take when women aged 20 to 24 present with post-coital bleeding and bleeding between menstruation."
Announcing the guidance, health minister Ann Keen revealed that she had met with a number of young women with cervical cancer over the past year.
"I have been touched by their stories and have resolved to do everything I can to help prevent and treat cervical cancer in young women," she said.
"The independent Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening told us that screening women under the age of 25 did more harm than good, but that more work needs to be done to ensure patients with symptoms are treated correctly.
"That is why this new guidance will support GPs and practice nurses to identify symptoms and refer where necessary to specialist services."
Sarah Woolnough, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: "Although cervical cancer is extremely rare in women under 25, we know that there have been delays in diagnosis in the past. It is absolutely critical that cancer is diagnosed as early as possible, so it's important that GPs are given support and training to help them spot these cases.
"These guidelines are helpful and it's now crucial that they are communicated to doctors effectively.
"But any women who have symptoms - like bleeding after sex or between periods, pain during sex or an unusual discharge - should discuss them with their doctor, regardless of their age. While these symptoms may not be due to cervical cancer, it's always better to get them checked out."
- Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (2010) - Clinical practice guidelines for the assessment of young women aged 20-24 with abnormal vaginal bleeding