English women currently have to wait until they’re 25 to obtain screening which is available at 20 to women in the rest of the UK
To mark European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, the UK’s leading sexual health agency Marie Stopes International is calling for the NHS cervical screening programme to be standardised across the UK, so that all women start testing from the age of 20.
Currently screening begins at age 20 for women in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but women in England have to wait until they are 25.
“The recent high profile case of Jade Goody, who is battling the most virulent form of cervical cancer at just age 27 shows that this disease, whilst extremely rare among women under 30 is nevertheless a potential threat,” said Liz Davies, Marie Stopes International’s Director of UK and Europe.
“Certain lifestyle choices which are increasingly common among younger women and teenage girls, such as smoking and having unprotected sex from an early age, can increase the risk of developing cervical abnormalities.”
“Bringing screening for English women into line with the rest of the UK, can only prove to be a beneficial move.”
The National Cervical Screening programme has been an unprecedented success in the UK, with death rates from this form of cancer plummeting by 70% over the past 30 years.
Health minister Ann Keen, MP recently announced that the Department of Health will continue to review the case for lowering the age for cervical screening to start in England. Marie Stopes International claims, ironically, that the recent introduction of a cervical cancer vaccination programme, makes the case for doing this ever more pressing.
“The vaccination only protects against certain forms of the HPV virus, which is the major cause of cervical cancer,” said Ms Davies. “Our fear is that young girls who are being vaccinated now may think they are completely protected, which simply is not the case. It makes sense to start them thinking about their cervical health as early as possible, and universal screening from the age of 20 is a key strategy in achieving that.”
Marie Stopes International has now reduced its charge for private cervical smear testing
at its clinics from £100 to £50 for women under the age of 25.