We are very proud of our cancer screening programmes in the National Health Service, which are internationally recognised as world-class. Experts predict that cervical screening saves around 4,500 lives every year in England and we want to ensure that our programme remains in the best interests of young women.
Cervical screening in England starts at 25 years—this is in line with World Health Organisation recommendations and is supported by advice from leading scientists in this country.
However, it is five years since we last reviewed the evidence and recent events, including the death of Claire Walker, have brought to light conflicting views on the issue of screening women aged under 25. We are aware of new evidence published in peer reviewed journals, and the National Cancer Intelligence Network has provided data on the effects of the age change on cervical cancer incidence and mortality. We want to ensure that the policy on starting screening at age 25 remains in the best interests of young women and is based on the latest available clinical evidence.
We have therefore 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 evidence review will be led by Professor Henry Kitchener, Chair of the ACCS, with National Cancer Director Professor Mike Richards and the Director of NHS Cancer Screening Programmes Julietta Patnick. The review will include representatives from the key cancer charities, and will consider any evidence they present to ACCS members.
The review is likely to take place at a specially convened meeting of the ACCS in late spring once we and other interested parties have had a chance to gather the appropriate evidence. The ACCS will make recommendations to Ministers shortly after the meeting.
The ACCS will review the latest available evidence in this area as well as consider how we can increase awareness of the importance of screening and encourage more women to decide to take up this important service.