The routine cervical screening interval in Wales for 25- to 49-year-olds has been extended from three to five years, it has been announced.
Cervical Screening Wales (CSW) said the change – which brings Wales in line with Scotland and UK National Screening Committee recommendations – came because the human papillomavirus (HPV) test introduced in 2018 is more accurate than primary cytology testing.
It will only apply if HPV is not found in someone’s next routine cervical screening sample, and not impact treatment or early repeat pathways after a test showed the presence of HPV.
Eluned Morgan, minister for health and social services, said: ‘I would like to reiterate that the change has been made because the current screening is more accurate than previous testing and, therefore, less frequent screening is required for those who do not have HPV.’
HPV testing looks for the 14 high-risk types of HPV that cause 99.8% of cervical cancers, according to CSW. This test helps to prevent more cancers than cytology testing as it identifies people who are at risk of cervical cancer, so changes can be found and treated earlier.
A small sample of cells is taken from the cervix and tested for HPV. If no high-risk HPV is found, the person has a very low risk of developing cervical cancer within five years, as it takes around 10 to 15 years to develop after an HPV infection.
Those who are identified as having HPV will be followed up, either by being referred for further review at a hospital colposcopy clinic or by invitation for a further test in a year’s time if there were no cell changes present in their sample.
In England and Northern Ireland, people with a cervix aged 25 to 49 are still invited to cervical screening every three years, rising to every five years for those aged 50 to 64.
HPV primary screening has been used in Wales and England since 2018 and 2019 respectively. It will be used in Northern Ireland, but the start date is to be confirmed.
In November 2021, research found that who receive the HPV vaccine are significantly more protected against cervical cancer.
And in August last year, NHS Scotland’s education and training body has published updated cervical screening education standards after HPV testing replaced cytology in 2020.
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