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Government says screening age for cervical cancer to stay at 25

New drive for clinicians to spot cervical cancer symptoms sooner

OnMedica staff

Thursday, 25 June 2009

A new government drive is to be launched that will ensure GPs and practice nurses get better at spotting the symptoms of cervical cancer in their patients, but the screening age will not be lowered below 25.

The action is one of the recommendations made in a review carried out by the independent Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS).

ACCS reported concern that young women who present to their GPs with cervical cancer symptoms are not always being given appropriate advice and have recommended immediate action.

Calls made to lower the screening age to 20 following the high-profile case of celebrity Jade Goody were considered in the review.

However, it concluded that there should be no change in the screening age because evidence showed that earlier screening could do more harm than good, causing too many false positives and increasing the risk of premature births in some women.

The review also recommended:

  • new guidance on the management of young women with gynaecological symptoms and an audit of young women diagnosed with cervical cancer
  • an awareness campaign for GPs and practice nurses
  • an audit of all young women diagnosed with cervical cancer looking at their symptoms prior to diagnosis
  • more work to increase screening uptake in women aged 25 to 34.

Health minister Ann Keen said there would a new drive to ensure GPs and practice nurses spot cervical cancer symptoms earlier in young women and refer patients correctly.

“I asked the ACCS to carry out a review into the cervical screening age because I wanted to make sure that our guidelines are based on the latest available clinical evidence.

“They have concluded that the screening age should not be lowered but have recommended that we do more work around the treatment of symptomatic patients. I fully support this conclusion and look forward to beginning this important new work to ensure women with cervical cancer are diagnosed at the earliest possible opportunity.”

For the review, ACCS heard from the country’s leading scientific experts and representatives from key cancer charities.

ACCS chairman Professor Henry Kitchener said: “The Committee was unanimous in their decision not to lower the screening age below 25.
This decision was taken because scientific evidence shows that screening women in this age group can do more harm than good.”

National director for cancer Professor Mike Richards said: “The ACCS has identified the need for urgent action on young women who present to their GPs with gynaecological symptoms. We know that early diagnosis is key to improving survival chances.

“We will develop guidance to support GPs and practice nurses so that young women with cervical cancer are diagnosed at the earliest opportunity.”

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