Cervical screening changes

16 September 2013

A report published by Cervical Screening Wales shows that without a screening programme, cancer rates could be 3.6 times higher.Until recently women in Wales aged between 20 and 64 were invited for cervical screening every three years.  However from 1 September 2013, women born on or after 1 September 1993 are no longer invited for smear tests until they reach 25, and women aged between 50 and 64 are invited every five years rather than every three years.A case control study published in 2003 concluded that screening was less effective for young women.  There were concerns that because many young women had cellular changes that resolved spontaneously, screening could lead to unnecessary treatments, which could be a factor in premature delivery of subsequent pregnancies.  The study also concluded that five yearly screening offered similar protection to that of three yearly screening in women aged between 50 and 64.

As a result of this study, in 2003 England changed their policy to invite women every three years for those aged between 25 and 49 and every five years for those aged between 50 and 64.  In 2011 Northern Ireland adopted the same policy.

In November 2012, following a request from the Wales Screening Committee to produce a definitive UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) policy, the UK NSC published a report recommending that:

  • The age of first invitation for cervical screening be raised to 25 in Wales and Scotland on the basis that there is evidence of a large number of women screened and treated with relatively little benefit below this age.
  • Screening for women aged 50-64 is undertaken five yearly.

In January 2013 the previous Minister for Health and Social Services, Lesley Griffiths AM, stated that the Wales Screening Committee had considered and endorsed the UK NSC recommendations and that from 1 September 2013 these changes would be implemented.

Further information on these changes can be accessed from the Cervical Screening Wales website, including a factsheet they have produced on changes to the age range and frequency of cervical screening.

Further information can also be found in the Research Service Cancer prevention and screening in Wales publication.

Article written by Victoria Paris.