Age for first smear tests raised to 25 in Scotland

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YOUNGER Scottish women are to lose out on cervical smears under an overhaul of the system announced today.

Patients will not be invited for testing until they are 25, instead of the current 20. The new limit already applies in England, but has led to concerns that the lives of some younger women are being jeopardised.

UK medical chiefs say cervical cancer in women under the age of 25 is extremely rare, and the majority of abnormalities picked up by screening in this age group will clear up of their own accord. Screening these women means a high number will experience “anxiety” and undergo further tests for no
reason, the government says.

SNP ministers are backing the advice of the UK National Screening Committee (NSC) and will implement the recommendations from 2015, when the first round of girls given the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination reach screening age.

But Sandra Cousins, who lost her daughter, Mercedes Curnow, to cervical cancer, has led a petition south of the Border calling for the screening age to be
lowered to 20, in line with the current Scottish system. It
attracted 120,000 signatures.

Scottish public health minister Michael Matheson said: “Cervical screening has proven to be an effective method of reducing the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer, and in detecting cancer as early as possible,.

“It saves around 5,000 lives in the UK every year and prevents eight out of ten cervical cancers from developing.

“We take our advice on screening from the National Screening Committee and their recommendations are based on strong evidence. These recommendations also reflect the recommendations of the expert group in Scotland. These changes will bring Scotland into line with current practice in England and Northern Ireland.”

Screening will also be extended from 60 until women reach 64. Those over 50 should be called for screenings every five years, rather than every three years, the review said.

The HPV vaccine is given to girls aged 12-13 to protect them against cervical cancer.

Jess Harris, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said: “This announcement is good news for women.

“Screening programmes need to make sure that the benefits of taking part outweigh the risks, such as unnecessary tests and worry.”

Robert Music, director for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said it would continue to focus on cervical cancer prevention and early detection.