Cervical screening age set to rise in Scotland and Wales

Scotland and Wales look set to raise the age women are first invited by their GP for cervical cancer screening to 25, after an expert panel said testing younger women may cause more harm than good.

The National Screening Committee said evidence showed that screening at aged 20-24 was substantially less effective in preventing cancer and advanced-stage tumours
The National Screening Committee said evidence showed that screening at aged 20-24 was substantially less effective in preventing cancer and advanced-stage tumours

Screening in England and Northern Ireland already starts at 25, but Scotland and Wales have a lower age limit of 20.

But the UK National Screening Committee (NSC) has proposed the first UK-wide policy, which calls for screening to begin at age 25.

If agreed, this would put pressure on Scotland and Wales to raise their lower screening age.

It comes after calls from Wales’ expert screening group to produce a definitive UK-wide policy.

There have been vigorous recent debates over when cervical screening should begin.

In its review, the UK NSC said evidence showed that screening at aged 20-24 was substantially less effective in preventing cancer and advanced-stage tumours.

It is believed that precancerous changes commonly found in young women most often resolve on their own.

Northern Ireland announced in July 2010 it would change to the same policy as England from January 2011.

Despite this, Scotland and Wales have persisted with inviting women at age 20.

Last June, Welsh GPs wrote to the country’s government calling for it to scrap its 'dangerous' policy.

Powys GP Dr Chris Nevill had argued that testing at age 20 can produce ‘harmful’ false positives.

At a UK NSC meeting in November, the committee recommended inviting women from age 25 ‘on the basis that there is evidence of a huge number of women screened and treated with relatively little benefit’. Women aged 50-65 would be invited every five years.

The new policy will be put out for consultation this month.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh government said the government would review its stance if the UK NSC policy was accepted.

She added that she was ‘99.9%’ sure Wales would alter its guidelines to match those of any approved UK-wide policy.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said it was currently considering advice on the age range and frequency of cervical screening from an expert group. ‘We note the recommendations from the UK NSC and that these will be considered alongside the recommendations from the Scottish expert group.’

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