Changes to Cervical Screening Programme in Wales
Cervical Screening Wales is to introduce changes in the way it invites women for smear tests from 1 September 2013. The Welsh Government announced earlier this year that in line with recommendations made at UK level, the age range covered by Cervical Screening Wales and the frequency of invitation would change.
At present, all women aged between 20 and 64 are invited for screening every three years. From 1 September, women born after 1 September 1993 will no longer be invited for smear tests until they reach 25, and women aged between 50 and 64 will be invited every five years rather than every three years. The changes will be introduced in both Wales, and in Scotland from 2015, and follow recommendations made by the National Screening Committee, the body that sets screening policy for the UK.
A consultation held in 2012 by the committee concluded that screening women under the age of 25 is not effective at preventing cervical cancer. It also recommended that there is no evidence to suggest that women over the age of 50 need to be screened more frequently than every five years.
The changes to be introduced in Wales from 1 September mean that from that date, women born after 1 September 1993 should not expect to be invited for screening until they are at least 24 years and six months old. Those aged under 25 who have already been screened will continue to receive three-yearly invitations. Women aged 50 or over on or after 1 September will be invited for screening three years from the date of their last smear test as usual, but in future will only be invited every five years.
Dr Rosemary Fox, Director of the Screening Division of Public Health Wales, said: “Women should not be alarmed by these changes to the way that we offer cervical screening in Wales and can be reassured that they are based on the best available evidence about when screening should be undertaken.
“As usual, women will receive a letter inviting them to make an appointment for a smear test when they are due for screening, and should act on that as soon as possible. Women need to take no other action as a result of the changes.
“However, if women who are not due for screening develop symptoms that they are concerned about, they should make an appointment with their GP and not wait for their next smear test.”
Cervical screening is not a test for cancer, but for pre-cancerous changes in the cervix (the neck of the womb) that can often be treated before cancer develops. Women who are invited for cervical screening should make an appointment with their GP or sexual health clinic for a smear test, which involves taking a small sample of cells from the cervix for analysis in a laboratory.
Cervical cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages and so it is important to attend screening appointments on time. The most common symptom of cervical cancer is unexplained bleeding from the vagina, and women who experience this should see their GP immediately even if they have received a normal smear test result in the last three years.
Answers to frequently asked questions on the National Screening Committee decision to raise the age for screening from 20 to 25 in Wales and Scotland are available at: http://www.screening.nhs.uk/cervicalcancer-qa
Fact Sheet: Changes to Cervical Screening Age Range and Frequency (PDF file 146KB)
About Cervical Screening Wales
Cervical Screening Wales is responsible for the NHS cervical screening programme in Wales, including sending invitations automatically. We get your details from your doctor’s list, so it is important that your doctor always has your correct name and address. If you have chosen to have a smear taken privately in the past, you are still entitled to have an NHS smear, and so you would still receive an invitation when your NHS smear was due.
Aims of the Cervical Screening Programme
The aim of the cervical screening programme is to reduce the incidence of, and morbidity and mortality from, invasive cervical cancer. However, screening also has the potential to cause both physical and psychological harm to women invited. It is essential that this harm is minimised, so that the benefits of screening outweigh the costs. A balance must be struck between maximising effectiveness and minimising harm.
The Eligible Population
The target age group for cervical screening is women aged 20 to 64.
Key messages for women
- Cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It detects possible abnormalities, or changes in the cells, which may develop into cancer if they are not treated.
- Almost all abnormalities are successfully treated.
- The examination of cervical smears is a highly skilled process. Like most medical tests it is not 100% accurate. However, having a regular smear test means that an abnormality is less likely to remain undetected.
- Most results are normal - no abnormal cells were found. No further investigations are needed but you should continue to attend for routine smear tests when invited.
- A normal result means that no abnormality was detected at that time but is not a guarantee that no abnormalities exist.
- If you ever have irregular or unusual bleeding or discharge tell your GP, even if you have had a recent negative smear test.