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For the record

"The Sun calls for the screening age in England to be lowered from 25" Image

"The Sun calls for the screening age in England to be lowered from 25"

On 25th March 2014 the Sun calls for changes to the screening programme, prompted by a 19 year old's death from cervical cancer after reporting to a GP with symptoms. They are asking for the screening age in England to be lowered from 25. This may cause more harm than good.

This was a tragic case. A diagnostic test was needed, designed for an individual with symptoms of a disease to find out whether they have cervical cancer. This is different from a screening test which is designed for populations of individuals who don't necessarily have any symptoms of the condition tested for. It identifies those with a risk marker for a condition and divides them into high and low risk. 

On 16 January 2012, Sean Kehoe, Churchill Hospital, Oxford, Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist explained in response to a similar case where a 23 year old died of cervical cancer after presenting to her GP with symptoms:

"In England - careful analysis has been undertaken to balance the risk and benefits of screening for pre-cancerous abnormalities in the 20-24 year age group. It was found not to be effective, but could cause long term damage through unnecessary interventions- such as treatments damaging the cervix, leading to higher risk of future miscarriage or premature labour. Cervical cancer is very rare in 20-25 year olds, so the decision to offer screening only from the age of 25 is not simply about cost: it is about the balance of benefit and harm.1"

1. Sasieni P, Castañón A, Cuzick J 2009 Effectiveness of cervical screening with age: population based case-control study of prospectively recorded data. BMJ doi: 10.1136/bmj.b2968

You can read more about the use of evidence in developing screening programmes in our guide Making Sense of Screening.

Document type: For The Record

Published: 25 March 2014


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