Written Ministerial Statement: Cervical screening for women aged under 25 years

Published 24th June, 2009


Cervical screening for women aged under 25 years

Wednesday 24th June 2009

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Ann Keen):

I announced in my Written Ministerial Statement of 13th March 2009 that we had asked the independent Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS) to formally review the evidence relating to risks and benefits of cervical screening in women under 25 years, including current evidence regarding incidence and mortality in young women.

The review took place at an extraordinary meeting of the ACCS held on 19th May 2009. The ACCS is an independent ministerially appointed committee, with most members nominated by their respective professional bodies. A number of guests were also invited to the review meeting to ensure all opinions and available evidence were heard, including the voluntary sector and patients.

No new scientific evidence was presented to the review meeting to support the reintroduction of screening in women under 25. Indeed some new evidence was presented indicating that screening is of little or no benefit in women in this age group. There is evidence that treatment following screening in this age group can lead to an increased risk of subsequent premature births, increasing the risk of babies dying or having severe disabilities. Evidence was also presented that showed there has been no significant increase in the number of women aged under 25 contracting or dying from cervical cancer since the policy change in 2004.

Members of the committee were unanimous that there was no reason to lower the age at which screening commences, which is in line with international recommendations.

Members of the committee were, however, concerned that young women who present to their GPs with gynaecological symptoms are not always being given appropriate advice. They strongly recommended that the Department of Health should take further action in this area, and the ACCS will be considering how best to take this forward as a matter of urgency at their meeting on 25th June 2009. Members also recommended that more effort is made in increasing the uptake of cervical screening in women aged 25 to 34, where coverage has been falling in recent years. We will develop plans with NHS Cancer Screening Programmes and the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative to take this forward.

The committee will keep the decision closely under review, especially by monitoring the incidence of cervical cancer in young women. In the interests of transparency, the minutes of the review meeting have been placed in the House of Commons Library and will be made available on the Department of Health website.