Women who have been vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV) may only require three cervical screenings over their lifetime, a new study suggests.
The research, published in International Journal of Cancer, says three smear tests may offer the same benefit as the 12 currently recommended.
HPV is thought to cause approximately 99% of all cervical cancers; vaccination is available free of charge in England for girls aged 12–18. Screening for cervical cancer occurs from the ages of 25–64.
Based on the new findings, England is to adapt its cervical screening programme in 2019. From then on, samples will initially be tested for presence of HPV and screening for abnormal cells will only be performed if the virus is detected. The current programme checks for cell abnormalities first.
Professor Peter Sasieni, lead author of the paper, commented: ‘The NHS should benefit from the investment that it’s made by introducing the vaccination programme.
‘These women are far less likely to develop cervical cancer, so they don’t need such stringent routine checking as those at a higher risk. This decision would free up resources for where they are needed most.’
Dr Julie Sharp, Head of Health Information at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘This is great news for women. The cervical screening programme is already very successful, and has led to a dramatic fall in deaths from the disease since its introduction. While we hope to see these improvements to the screening programme in the future, it’s important that women continue to take up invitations for cervical screening. So, if you’re all set for your next screen, keep that appointment.’
While findings may result in reduced number of required screenings, efforts must still continue on improving the uptake of HPV vaccination and screening programmes, said Robert Music, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
He added: ‘We would urge the government to use any savings made as a result of reduced screening intervals to fund a national cervical screening awareness campaign.
‘If we do not reverse falling screening attendance we will simply be faced with more lives lost to the disease which could have been prevented.’