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Cervical Cancer

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 14 October 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what steps his Department is taking to increase awareness of cervical cancer symptoms by public healthcare professionals; (291468)

(2) if he will make it his policy to lower the cervical cancer screening age to 20 years.

Through the national awareness and early diagnosis initiative, we are making the public and health care professionals more aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer, including cervical cancer and encouraging those who may have symptoms to seek advice earlier. We have allocated £5 million to the national health service to support cancer networks and primary care trusts in implementing services that will improve awareness of cancers and promote early diagnosis.

A national audit in primary care of all patients diagnosed with cancer is being undertaken in collaboration with the Royal College of Practitioners and the National Patient Safety Agency. Findings from the audit will be used to make decisions about how best to provide more support to general practitioners and other primary care professionals to ensure early diagnosis of cancer.

We have set up a working group to produce a new guideline to assist general practitioners in the management of young women who present in primary care with gynaecological symptoms. The aim is to issue the guideline before the end of the year.

We are also preparing key messages on cervical cancer for members of the public. The first draft is currently being reviewed by an expert group of stakeholders, and our plans are to launch these before the end of the year. These will go on to NHS Choices and stakeholder websites, and stakeholders will be encouraged to use them in a variety of ways to raise awareness.

The independent Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS) at its formal review in May agreed unanimously that there should be no change in the current policy in England of starting cervical screening at 25 years. However, the cervical screening age range will be a standing item on the agenda of meetings of the ACCS, which reviews all new research to assess its significance to the cervical screening programme.

NHS cancer screening programmes maintain an on-line database of literature relating to cervical screening, and publish ‘Cervical Screening: Literature Update’ twice a year. If further evidence is published that warrants another formal review of the screening age range, this will be done.