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Screening helps prevent cervical cancer in older women

Women who do not have cervical screening over the age of 50 are six times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer in later life, compared to women who had normal screening results during this time, according to new research.

The study, led by Cancer Research UK, underlines the importance of screening women over 50 for cervical cancer. 

Women with adequate screening history and normal (negative) screening results between age 50 and 64 have a lower risk of cervical cancer at least into their eighties, the study suggests. 

Researchers examined data taken from 1,341 65-83 year-old women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer between 2007 and 2012, and 2,646 women without the disease.

In women who weren't screened between the ages of 50 and 64, 49 cervical cancers were diagnosed per 10,000 women aged 65-83. This compared to eight cervical cancers per 10,000 adequately screened women with normal results.

Women who had been screened regularly but had an abnormal (positive) screening result between 50 and 64 had the highest risk of all - 86 cervical cancers per 10,000 women at age 65-83.

The results suggest that cervical screening in women aged 50-64 has a substantial impact on cervical cancer rates not only at this age, but for many years after. 

'Life expectancy'

The level of protection provided by having normal screening results declines over time, but even women in their eighties with adequate screening history and normal results had a lower risk of cervical cancer compared to those who were not screened.

Professor Peter Sasieni, Cancer Research UK's expert on cervical screening and co-author from Queen Mary University of London, said: "Screening up to the age of 65 greatly reduces the risk of cervical cancer in the following decade, but the protection weakens with time and is substantially weaker 15 years after the last screen. 

"With life expectancy increasing, it's important for countries that stop screening under age 60 to look into their screening programmes to maximise the number of cervical cancer cases prevented and the number of cervical cancers caught at an early stage."

In England and Northern Ireland, women between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for screening. Between the ages of 25 and 49 women are screened every three years. Between the ages of 50 and 64 women have screening every five years.

In Scotland, women between 20 and 60 years are invited for screening every three years. Scotland will extend screening for women up to the age of 64 from 2015. In Wales, women between 20 and 64 are screened every three years.