HEALTH experts have called for NHS screening for cervical cancer to be extended to women aged over 64 after research found one in five new cases is diagnosed in this age group.
Around 3,000 new cases are diagnosed in the UK each year. It is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35.
“HPV can lie dormant for very long periods of time”Robert Music
Latest figures show 327 new cases were diagnosed in women in Scotland in 2010. A total of 99 women died from the disease that year.
Currently women in Scotland are offered smear tests from age 25 to 60. However, this is due to change next April to 25-64, as is the case south of the Border. Women in Scotland aged 50-64 will be screened every five years, while those up to age 70 will be invited for non-routine screenings.
But researchers at Keele University found that on average, 20 per cent of the 3,121 new cases diagnosed annually were in women aged 65 and over. Women over this age also accounted for half of deaths from cervical cancer.
A separate report by the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust also found a lack of knowledge about the cause of the disease and who can be affected seems to be contributing to women aged 50 and 64 not attending screening.
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), but three in five women in this age group did not know this and many failed to see historic sexual activity as a threat, with the virus laying dormant and developing into cervical cancer later in life.
Screening is the most effective way of preventing cervical cancer yet figures show last year there was a significant drop as women’s age increased.
Reality TV star Jade Goody’s death from cervical cancer in 2009 resulted a spike in women getting themselves tested, but numbers have since declined again.
Sue Sherman, senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University, said: “This review suggests that older women not getting themselves screened to prevent cervical cancer has become a significant contributor to the number contracting the disease.
“Despite all the attention on younger women – in part due to the Jade Goody effect – 20 per cent of new diagnoses and nearly 50 per cent of cervical cancer deaths occur in women over the age of 64.
“We need to change the perception of cervical cancer so it is thought of just like breast and bowel cancer – that it can affect women well into old age.
“Encouragingly we found women with three negative tests for cervical cancer between 50 and 64 are considerably less likely to get the disease in the next 20 years. So regular screenings have the potential to catch the disease early and reduce the victims of cervical cancer dramatically.”
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “This research backs up our own investigations that there is an urgent need to not only increase survival rates for women in this age group but decrease the numbers diagnosed altogether.
“We must remind all women that HPV is very common and can lie dormant for very long periods of time.”