Brinkmann Gynaecology

MPs want change to smear test age limit for young women

Over the past week the government has been facing claims that it is risking the lives of women under 25 in England by not giving them cervical smear tests. Women in Scotland and Wales are currently invited for screening from the age of 20.

Two MPs are backing a campaign for the screening system to be reviewed and brought in line with the rules in Scotland and Wales. This is supported by a petition signed by more than 120,000 people, led by a mother who lost her daughter to cervical cancer aged 20, which was delivered to the Houses of Parliament amid protests this past week. 
However, the latest data from Cancer Research shows that cervical cancer in under-25s is rare. In 2010, 45 women aged between 20 and 24 were diagnosed with cervical cancer in England according to the Office of National Statistics.

There is also good clinical evidence to suggest that the onset of cervical screening should not be lowered. This is because changes in the young cervix are normal. 

Suspected abnormalities in younger women could lead to unnecessary treatment, which could have consequences for subsequent childbearing. Any abnormal changes can be easily picked up and treated from the age of 25. 

The decision to keep the screening age at 25 is supported unanimously by the Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening and a research paper written in 2009, published in the British Medical Journal, which states that 'Cervical screening in women aged 20-24 is substantially less effective in preventing cancer (and in preventing advanced stage tumours) than is screening in older women'

The main symptoms to look out for are bleeding after sex; bleeding in between periods or smelly vaginal discharge, although these are rarely seen in younger women and the vast majority of cases will not be cancer.

However if you are at all concerned by symptoms such as these you should see your GP. It is also valid for anyone concerned to ask to be referred to a specialist.

Cervical screening in the UK

  • Cervical screening or smear tests are used to detect abnormal cells which can stop cancer from developing if treated early
  • In England and Northern Ireland women will receive their first invitation for cervical screening around their 25th birthday and be due for one every three years.
  • In Scotland and Wales, women will be invited for a cervical screening from the age of 20 and every three years subsequently

A research paper, Sasieni P, Castañón A, Cuzick J. Effectiveness of cervical screening with age: population based case-control study of prospectively recorded data. BMJ 2009; 339:b2968, focusing on women screened under the age of 25 was published in the BMJ