Women could safely wait five years for smear tests with NHS technique

Henrietta Strickland
February 9, 2019

Now cervical screening is offered every three years to women aged 25 to 49 in England, and every five years to those aged 50 to 64.

Researchers say that the technique, which they believe will lead to between 400 and 500 fewer cervical cancer cases in England each year, means women could have tests less frequently without raising their risk of developing the disease.

Cervical cancer screenings could be safely extended to at least five years following a switch to HPV tests, according to a new study.

Researchers compared HPV screening with traditional cytology (smear) testing and found it to be "more sensitive".

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, praised the research but urged caution, suggesting that women who do not turn up should still be invited every three years.

HPV is a common infection spread through close skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex or oral sex.

At present, cervical screening samples are examined and those that show possible changes to cells are tested for HPV.

HR-HPV positive women with no cervical lesions were asked to return in 12 months for another test (early recall), and if HR-HPV persisted without abnormal cells, were recalled again at 24 months.

First testing for HPV enabled detection of 50 per cent more abnormal changes at grade 2 or worse and 40 per cent more at grade 3 or worse (CIN 3), plus 30 per cent more cases of cervical cancer. About 2,500 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in England, with one in four coming after a "normal" smear test result.

"Screening with HPV testing would translate to 400-500 fewer cases, or a 20 percent decrease in the overall incidence once it is rolled out nationally". This happens every three years for women aged 25 to 49 and every five years for women aged 50 to 64.

The BMJ study involved six NHS laboratories across England.

Lead study author Matejka Rebolj, a senior epidemiologist at King's College London, said: "Our study confirms that HPV screening is practical on a large scale and confers greater sensitivity than current smear testing".

"This means that the women whose lives can be saved through screening will be better served by the new test". At the same time, women with negative test results will not need to be screened as often as they are now'. "The high mortality rate from cervical cancer globally could be reduced through a comprehensive approach that includes screening, early diagnosis and treatment programmes", he added.

Each year cervical screening is estimated to save 5,000 lives in the United Kingdom, partly through identifying the disease early enough to be treated, and partly through picking up and treating abnormalities in cells before the cancer can develop.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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