People who have signed a petition calling for the age at which smear tests are offered to women to be lowered have been protesting outside the Houses of Parliament this week. Two MPs, Andrew George and Mark Spencer, are backing the campaign for the NHS Cervical Cancer Screening Programme to be reviewed.
The petition was led by the mother of Mercedes Curnow who lost her life to cervical cancer at only 23 years of age. In Scotland and Wales, smear tests are offered from the age of 20 but only from the age of 25 in England and Northern Ireland; throughout the UK women are invited for screening every three years.
The Office for National Statistics showed that in 2010 only 45 women aged between 20–24 years were diagnosed with cervical cancer and Dr Adeola Olaitan, Consultant Gynaecologist at University College London, believes there is good clinical evidence that the screening age need not be lowered to 20. Dr Olaitan advises that early screening may “…do more harm than good, such as leading to problems with having children later on.” This is due to early screening leading to unnecessary intervention and treatments which can damage the cervix and increase the risk of premature births or miscarriages. Dr Olaitan emphasises that there has been "no increase in mortality from cervical cancer in under 25s since the screening age was raised in 2003."
It is important that young women are aware of the symptoms of cervical cancer so that if they are at all concerned they can go to their GP to arrange a referral to a specialist for a diagnosis.