Scotland raises cervical screening age

Women in Scotland will be invited for cervical cancer screening five years later than they are now, after experts said earlier screening was 'ineffective' and may cause more harm than good.

Scotland: cervical screening age raised in line with England
Scotland: cervical screening age raised in line with England

The Scottish government said it will raise the age of first invitation for screening from 20 to 25 from 2015 in response to advice from the UK National Screening Committee (NSC).

The committee said the latest evidence showed cervical screening was 'simply not effective in women under the age of 25'.

In January, GP exclusively revealed that the NSC would introduce a UK-wide policy for cervical screening. At present, women in England and Northern Ireland are invited at age 25, but in Scotland and Wales women are invited at age 20.

A decision from the Welsh government on the proposal is due soon.

Announcing the changes, Scotland's minister for public health, Michael Matheson, said the decision was based on 'strong evidence' from the NSC. 'These recommendations also reflect the recommendations of the expert group in Scotland, which recently reviewed the age range and frequency of screening within the Scottish cervical screening programme.'

He added: 'These changes will bring Scotland into line with current practice in England and Northern Ireland.'

Jess Harris, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said: 'This announcement is good news for women. Screening programmes need to make sure that the benefits of taking part outweigh the risks, such as unnecessary tests and worry.'

Evidence considered by the NSC showed cervical cancers among women under 25 were extremely rare and most abnormalities clear up on their own. Screening this group would mean a high number would be unnecessarily referred for further investigation, leading to anxiety, the committee said.

In its latest recommendations published on Tuesday, the NSC said: 'The best available evidence suggests that cervical screening is simply not effective in women under the age of 25 because it does not pick up the very rare cases of cervical cancer that do occur in this age group. As a result the evidence indicates that screening this age group would cause more harm than benefit.'

The committee also reviewed the evidence for frequency of cervical screening for women over 50. It said five yearly screening offered similar protection to three yearly checks in this age group.

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