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No change in cervical cancer screening age

The Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS) has agreed unanimously for no change in the screening age for cervical cancer.

According to the DH, evidence showed that earlier screening could do more harm than good, causing too many false positives and increase the risk of premature births in some women.

Health Minister Ann Keen said: "In the past few months I have met with a number of young women who have cervical cancer. I have listened carefully and I am determined to make sure that our policy is in their best interests.

"That is why I asked the ACCS to carry out a review into the cervical screening age because I wanted to make sure that our guidelines are based on the latest available clinical evidence.

"They have concluded that the screening age should not be lowered but have recommended that we do more work around the treatment of symptomatic patients. I fully support this conclusion and look forward to beginning this important new work to ensure women with cervical cancer are diagnosed at the earliest possible opportunity.

"There has been a big public debate about this issue and a great deal of publicity about the causes and symptoms of cervical cancer. Together we can build on this work to help even more women across the country to take steps to prevent the disease and to identify symptoms early and save lives."

ACCS Chairman Professor Henry Kitchener said: "The Committee were unanimous in their decision not to lower the screening age below 25.

"This decision was taken because scientific evidence shows that screening women in this age group can do more harm than good.

"However we are concerned that young women with gynaecological symptoms are not always being given the right advice from their GPs and we will ask the Department of Health to take action."

The ACCS will now consider ways to improve the way symptomatic patients are treated, with a particular focus on women under 25 and then make further recommendations to the Department of Health.

Minutes of the Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening Review

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Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"Some people are saying that the scheme is a waste of money but only to those whom it doesn't affect. I have not yet been affected and I do NOT agree that it is a waste of money - how can anything that saves even one life be a waste of money? It is the second biggest cancer in women, and if it was breast cancer then the authorities wouldn't think twice. I am in no doubt that the smear testing age should be lowered - its the right thing to do" - Mercy Jones, England

"Cervical cancer is the second highest cancer in women below 35 yrs. 2,800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year (Cancer Research UK). The programme is not pushed in general practice just for cash rewards. It's a Welsh National
Screening programme offered to young women from 20 years every 3 years. The uptake rate is 80% and saves many young lives." - Cheryl Doyle, Gwent

"No. If we are all one United Kingdom then why is there a difference? If the minister is saying it does more harm than good to screen the under-25s, why is there such an effective screening programme in Scotland?" - Jacqueline Watt, Scotland

"No, I think that as with Scotland and Wales, England should be screening from 20 years old. Why this discrepancy? England cannot have different information on which to base this decision, is it MONEY? I have been working in women's health both as a practice nurse and family planning sister for more than 30 years and feel that young women often fail to keep appointments as GPs give too little info and so the girls feel it is "unimportant" to keep up the habit of screening. Recently in the case of someone who had previously had an abnormal result and still DNAd a number of follow-up appointments. Her GP had never even spoken to her, even though they had taken the original smear. We are also instructed to get permission from our CMO to take smears on under-25-year-olds on a strictly clinical basis." - Name and address supplied

"No. I believe that mixed messages are being given to young women as a result in the difference in screening ages across the UK. People who move around the country, including students, and those reading magazines are exposed to inconsistent information. As a smear taker for 16 years, and seeing the number of treatable abnormalities, I think age 20 should be the norm across the board." - Karen McNaught, Glasgow

"My beautiful 25-year-old daughter has just had the results of her first smear, and has an urgent referral to the colposcopy clinic with severe dyskariosis - CIN3. She was asymptomatic, has only had one sexual partner - her husband - who she has been with since age 16, and he has not been promiscuous. We now have the uncertainty of waiting to see what sort of treatment will be needed and whether it is cancer or not. Since my husband - her father - died aged 32, I have just her and my grandson aged 4. The screening programme is NOT a waste of money. If she had a smear earlier, it could have been detected and monitored at an earlier stage and thus avoid the anguish we are going through right now. How on earth can cervical cancer be compared in importance with a 'degree of incontinence' after childbirth, which in itself is usually reversible with pelvic floor exercises? It is only a waste of public money if you are not affected." - BL, Wiltshire

"No, if it saves one young girl's life it's worth it and many young women by 25 have made a decision not to have it done - I remember when we used to start smears when women became sexually active and this got them used to having them done. Surely not doing a smear you have no idea what is going on, better to do the smear then the consultant can make a decision clinically on what to do next if the result is abnormal - let them say follow up treatment isn't necessary." - Lynn Meredith, Staffordshire

"I do not agree with the decision not to screen the under 25s. In Wales, we screen at 20 years very effectively. Why then does the ACCS differ?" - C Doyle, Gwent

"I think the biggest concern would be sexually active women, no matter what the age...if not then, maybe how about within 3-5 years of starting their periods?" - Kristie, California, USA

"No I do not, I believe that any female that is sexually active should be able to have a smear, there are too many that get missed because a smear is not available to them." - Jayne Bristoe, Essex

"NO. Does that mean that the scientific evidence in Scotland is different?" - Fiona Gow, Dunoon

"The changes to screening should be 3 year recall in UK as some health authorities do (eg, EHH)but payment is only after 5 yrs. Sexually active and under age of 25, should be given the option but not as compulsory" - Esh, Hounslow

"In Scotland the age screening age is from 20 and has been for some time. I do not understand why England is different. I am sure that NHS Scotland's decision to offer cervical screening from 20 would also be based on robust scientific evidence. There should surely be rationalisation and harmonisation regarding screening age across the UK." - Gale McCallum, Glasgow

"I think that this is the right decision. I also believe that the whole programme is a waste of public money. Money would be better spent on physiotherapy as most women have some degree of incontinence after delivering babies. The programme is aggressively pushed in GP surgeries for funding reasons. The cons of participating in this programme are rarely explained to patients." - Petra Hickey, Hereford