Why are cervical cancer screenings being changed from every three years to every five?

·3-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Over half a million women and people with a cervix have signed a petition to stop changes being made in Wales to cervical cancer screening (which will bring the country in line with the screening programme currently in place in Scotland).

It comes after the frequency of cervical cancer screening in Wales has been reduced from every three years to every five, following a recommendation from the UK National Screening Committee based on the success of Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing.

But the change wasn't welcomed by some members of the public, who started an online petition calling for a rethink. "On average 3,197 cases of cervical cancer are discovered each year with 854 deaths between 2016 and 2018, with only 51% surviving this type of cancer for more than 10 years," the petition reads. "99.8% of cervical cancer cases are preventable, according to Cancer Research UK."

In light of the growing concern, Public Health Wales (PHW) took to social media to apologise for not adequately explaining the reasons for the change. "We are sorry. We haven't done enough to explain the changes to cervical screening and have caused concern," they said in a tweet. "We are working to make this clearer and more information will be available as soon as we can today and in the coming days."

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

HPV (the sexually transmitted virus that causes over 99% of cervical cancers) testing was introduced in Wales in 2018. As a result of the successful testing programme, people aged between 25-49 with a cervix will now need to get routinely tested less often.

Speaking about what HPV testing means for cervical cancer screening, Samantha Dixon, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, told Cosmopolitan UK: "By testing for HPV first, we now have a more sensitive and more effective way of identifying those at increased risk of cervical cancer at an earlier stage."

Dixon continued, "This means that those who test negative for HPV are now able to be re-invited every five years, while those who test positive will actually be monitored more closely and be invited back in just one year. These changes are happening at different paces across the UK and brings Wales into line with Scotland."

As for why so many women and people with a cervix had been left feeling concerned by the changes, Dixon pointed out: "The strong reaction to the announcement shows why clear communication about health is key – it is really important that everyone eligible for cervical screening feels confident about the test."

Like Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, GPs have praised the changes, as well as the rollout of HPV vaccinations and testing. "The phenomenal effect of the HPV vaccine in reducing the number of cervical cancers by up to 90% supports the safety of the new screening changes," explains Dr Jane Leonard.

"I understand where the concern is," she adds, "but people should know it’s the most at-risk people who are being checked more frequently and that is why the rules are deemed to be safe."

For more information or support about cervical cancer and screening, visit Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

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