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'Jade Goody effect' sparks smear review

Expert panel commissioned to consider lowering the age for cervical screening

OnMedica staff

Friday, 13 March 2009

The so-called "Jade Goody effect" which has seen a big rise in demand for cervical screening by young women has persuaded ministers to commission a review to determine whether the screening age should be lowered.

The reality TV personality decided that she would "die in the public eye" following her diagnosis of cervical cancer. Blanket TV and newspaper coverage of her story has seen a reported 20% rise in demand for smears.

Today Health Minister Ann Keen announced that a panel of experts is to carry out an evidence review to determine whether women under the age of 25 should be routinely screened for cervical cancer.

Cervical screening currently starts at age 25 years in England, in line with World Health Organisation recommendations and the advice of leading experts in this country including the independent Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS).

The Health Minister has asked the ACCS to review the latest available evidence relating to the risks and benefits of cervical screening in women under 25 years.

The evidence review will be conducted by the ACCS which is chaired by Professor Henry Kitchener, National Cancer Director Professor Mike Richards and the Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes Julietta Patnick.

The review will:

  • Consider evidence of the harms and benefits of cervical screening in women aged 20-24 and look at trends in cervical cancer incidence and mortality in women under 25 years in England
  • Consider the likely impact of HPV vaccination on future incidence of cervical cancer and the timescales for any likely effects
  • Assess levels of awareness of cervical cancer and its symptoms especially in younger women aged 25-34 years who are the least likely to take up screening invitations and consider further measures to increase uptake
  • Consider what measures might be taken to improve knowledge and awareness amongst GPs and practice nurses regarding the appropriate management of patients with possible symptoms of cervical cancer; and
  • Consider whether asymptomatic women under 25 years should have access to cervical screening either as part of a formal programme or through informed choice.

The ACCS will consider the latest evidence available, including evidence from the key cancer charities who will be invited to contribute to the review. The board of experts will then recommend whether it is beneficial for women under 25 to be screened.

Health Minister Ann Keen said: "Cervical screening saves around 4,500 lives every year and we want to ensure that our programme remains in the best interests of young women. Experts will review the latest available evidence in this area as well as consider how we can increase awareness of the importance of screening and encourage more women to decide to take up this important service."

Professor Mike Richards said: "It is important that we look at any emerging evidence so that we can be sure, and can assure young women, that this is still what is best for their health.

Early detection and treatment can prevent around 75% of cervical cancers developing in women so we will also look at what more we can do to highlight the importance and benefits of screening."

The evidence review will be presented to Ann Keen later this year.

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