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For the record

"Smear-test ageism killed our daughter" Image

"Smear-test ageism killed our daughter"

An article, published on 13 January 2012 in the Metro describes a tragic situation, a 23 year old has died of cervical cancer and her parents explain that her GP ignored her symptoms.

The article goes to report that her mother is campaigning for the age at which screening begins (currently 25 years), to be lower to 20 years old. The article seems to be confusing screening, and failure to diagnose a condition.

Sean Kehoe, Churchill Hospital, Oxford, Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist explains:

“This is always a tragic situation. Although, screening without doubt, contributes to the reduction in deaths from cervical cancer, it will not prevent all cancers developing - no screening system for the prevention of a cancer is 100% effective. 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

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

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

Document type: For The Record

Published: 16 January 2012

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