02/07/2003

Charity outlines guidelines for cervical screenings

All women aged between 25 and 49 should be offered cervical screening every three years – but five years is regular enough for women aged 50 to 64 – according to a new report by Cancer Research UK.

The charity says that there should be precise direction on how often screening should be offered, and not to simply leave individual health authorities to decide – as is currently the case.

The new study is based on an audit of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme and compared screening histories of nearly 4,000 women, including 1,300 who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer.

According to the most recent figures, 60% of health authorities offer screening every three years, while the remaining 40% opt for either five-yearly screening or a mixture of the two.

The researchers found that screening every three years offers 84% protection against cervical cancer, compared with 73% with five yearly screening in younger women.

In older women, however, the audit shows very little difference between screening every five years and every three years. Even screening annually was little better than five yearly screening.

Lead author, Professor Peter Sasieni, of Cancer Research UK's Department of Epidemiology, Mathematics and Statistics at the Wolfson Institute in London, said: "A programme based on our recommendations offers over 80% protection against cervical cancer for both age groups."

Screening is routinely offered to women from age 20 and some doctors encourage younger women to be screened, if they are sexually active. However, the new study questions the value of screening women below the age of 25.

Cancer Research UK's Head of Clinical Programmes, Dr Richard Sullivan said: "The incidence of cervical cancer dropped by 42% in the five years following the introduction of the screening programme.

"We know that every year cervical screening saves lives and we continue to urge women to attend for screening."

(GMcG)

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