Thursday 14 November 2019

Women excluded from screening programme have developed cancer

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae. Photo: Tom Burke
Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae. Photo: Tom Burke
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

More than 20 women under the age of 25 have been diagnosed with cervical cancer since the CervicalCheck screening programme started a decade ago.

However, the programme excludes women under 25 from screening, based on best international evidence.

The information, which was obtained in a parliamentary reply by Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae, shows cases of the disease emerge in young women annually, with six recorded in 2007.

Health Minister Simon Harris highlighted the importance of a new generation of schoolgirls to get the HPV vaccine, which can protect them from the cancer in later life.

According to CervicalCheck, the international best practice recommends that a population-based cervical screening programme should target women aged from 25 or 30 years to 60 or 65 years.

"Based on evidence to date, there is no additional public health benefit in starting screening below the age of 25.

"In women under the age of 25, minor changes in the cells of the cervix are common but invasive cancer is extremely rare," it said.

"Population-based screening in women under the age of 25 may lead to many women receiving unnecessary treatment for lesions that would never have developed into invasive cancer.

"Once screening begins at the age of 25, lesions that are likely to progress will be screen-detectable.

"Lesions that regress will no longer be a source of concern. Any woman under the age of 25 who is concerned about her risk of developing cervical cancer or her sexual health should contact her doctor."

It said there is also "no firm evidence" that indicates the optimal age to stop inviting women for screening.

However, in most international programmes it is 60 or 65 years.

"The natural history and progression of cervical cancer means that it is highly unlikely that such women will go on to develop the disease," it said.

Women aged 60 and over who have never had a test are entitled to have one free under CervicalCheck.

The age the UK screening programme starts is also 25.

Irish Independent

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