Scotland’s NHS is to give women a more accurate cervical cancer test with the potential for earlier and more effective treatment.
Women having a routine smear will also be checked for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the cancer’s main risk factor.
The new “first line” test is expected to be available within the Scottish Cervical Screening Programme by 2019-20.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under the age of 35 and incidence has increased 22 per cent over the last decade. Each year in the UK, more than 3,200 women are diagnosed and over 890 die.
In 2016 figures showed 116 women north of the border died of the condition compared to 88 in 2015 – up by a quarter.
The total number of women in Scotland diagnosed with the disease rose to 385 in 2014 compared to 318 the previous year and just 304 in 2012, making it the highest increase since 1993.
Meanwhile more women are ignoring screening invites with only 70 per cent of eligible women attending, compared with 80 per cent a decade ago.
The new tests, which were introduced in the NHS in England following a successful trial in 2016, follow recommendations from the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) and will be given to all women aged between 25 and 64 who are offered a smear test.
Shona Robison, the health secretary, said: “Cervical screening is an important health service that can reduce cases of cervical cancer and death. We must continue to invest in more accurate and accessible tests.
“I am pleased to announce that investment from our Cancer Strategy will be used to introduce this new test, which will help ensure the early signs of cervical cancer are identified and treated earlier.”
Last night cancer charities welcomed the new test describing it as a “huge step forward.”
Robert Music, chief executive, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, highlighting the benefits of HPV testing, said: “HPV testing as the primary cervical screening method has been shown to have a higher detection rate than the current screening programme. This provides a more reliable indicator of women who may be at greater risk of cervical cancer.
“It is positive to see the NHS in Scotland following UKNSC advice and changing to this more effective test which will reduce incidence of cervical cancer in Scotland and save lives.”
Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s senior public affairs manager, said: “It’s a huge step forward that the Scottish Government is now introducing a first line HPV test to improve cervical screening. Testing first for the human papilloma virus will help prevent more cervical cancers, as it can pick up the cancer-causing infection before any abnormalities could develop in the cells.”