A successful screening programme, launched in the late 1980s, has cut the chances of a woman being diagnosed with cervical cancer by 50%, according to research.
Rates fell from 16 women per 100,000 in 1988 to eight per 100,000 in 2005 after the introduction of the NHS programme, figures reveal.
The number of diagnoses each year in the UK relating to cervical cancer dropped from 4,800 in the late 1980s to around 2,700 presently.
Changes to the screening programme for England in 2003, which saw the age that women were first invited to smear tests move from 20 to 25, have been criticised by some health groups. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland still invites women for screening from the age of 20.
Recommendations from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Cancer Research UK and the independent Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening led to the change as experts argued that few women under 25 develop cancer and that screening could lead to unnecessary and harmful investigations of symptoms that may clear up by themselves.
Figures show that fewer women each year are attending cervical screening, particularly those aged 25 to 34.
The statistics come after 27-year-old reality TV star Jade Goody, who has terminal cervical cancer, celebrated her wedding to Jack Tweed at the weekend. There has been anecdotal evidence from around the UK that news of Goody's cancer resulted in a surge in the number of women accepting their invites for smear tests.
Copyright © Press Association 2009
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"I think screening should be made available from 18 years onwards on a 12-monthly basis if the person requests this, to pick up on those people who have a hereditary chance of getting cervical cancer and to those teenage mothers. We need to combat all types of cancers through a screening programme linked in with a yearly health screen. Eighteen to 24 year olds should be targeted and entitled to this service." - Kate Brewerton, Coventry
"Very good news. The good work and effort of all those involved to be applauded. I still feel that the age 25–64 should remain despite the media scaremongering. The media should be highlighting the present statistical improvement and concentrate on health education awareness and not create unnecessary anxiety among the young." - V Henry
"I think it is a very difficult argument as the evidence is that only two people under the age of 25 die from ca cx, not much to warrant everyone having them earlier. So much unnecessary treatment is given to the younger ones - but I do know Southwark council still screen from the age of 21, as it is well known that women in that health authority are having sex younger with more partners. But then that should be opened up so that women generally who are known to have several partners at a young age can be screened - I work in sexual health so get a good idea of this. But I don't think it's appropriate to screen everyone under the age of 25 when they are in a long-term relationship with little sexual history. I have to say I find it very hard to turn younger ones away if after presenting them with all the research they still want it - thankfully it doesn't happen often and labs still process them." - Karen, London
"Working as a practice nurse in Scotland I am used to screening being offered from age 20. This also provides a great opportunity to discuss other sexual health issues and offer chlamydia screening. I have definitely been seeing more woman who had defaulted previously and they are coming in saying it's because of the news about Jade Goody. For me there is no doubt she has encouraged women to come for screening." - Rhona Aikman, Scotland
"Girls are sexually active much earlier and have many more sexual partners these days, so the screening age should be reduced to 20, in my opinion." - Pam Fry, Berkshire
"I agree that we should stick to screening women aged 25 years and that screening could lead to unnecessary and harmful investigations of symptoms. We should concentrate on the curerent HPV vaccination programme and ensure all eligible get vaccinated." - Name and address supplied
"I think that it is fantastic that Jade is not a selfish person, she wants to help others to identify the risk of cervical cancer and to have an uptake of the screening. I personally think that the age for screening should be reduced to the age of 20." - Brenda Lewis, West Midlands
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