Thursday, 02 July 2015
There have been numerous articles and discussions in the recent years about lowering the age for cervical cancer screening in the UK. Currently the lower age for cervical screening is 25. Although cervical cancer can occur in young women, it is extremely rare in women under the age of 25 with just 2.6 cases per 100,000 women in the UK. The harms of screening women under the age of 25 are currently thought to outweigh the benefits.
I was interested to read some articles recently which are advocating a higher age limit for cervical cancer screening. Of the 3,121 women diagnosed on average each year between 2009 and 2011 in the UK, only 64 were younger than 25 compared with 616 who were older than 65. Although the incidence of cervical cancer decreases with increasing age, there is actually an increase in the incidence in older women. Nearly half of the deaths caused by cervical cancer are in women older than 65 years.
Another problem with the screening programme in older women is that older women are actually less likely to attend screening. The proportion of women in England in 2013 who had been screened in the previous five years actually dropped with age, from 82.4% of 50-54 year olds to 75.9% of 55-59 year olds and 72.7% of 60-64 year olds. Some experts believe that the public perception of cervical cancer is that it is a younger person’s disease and this has been reinforced by articles suggesting that the age of cervical screening should be lowered.
The upper age of breast cancer screening in the UK is set to rise to 73 years next year. The upper age for bowel cancer screening in the England is being extended to 74 to be in line with Scotland. So should the upper age for cervical cancer screening by increased too?