Northern Ireland

Cervical screening age to be raised in Northern Ireland

The age for screening for cervical cancer in Northern Ireland is to be raised from 20 to 25.

The Department of Health said it was following practice in England and recommendations by the World Health Organisation.

The department said that women aged 25 to 49 will now have the opportunity to be checked more frequently.

This is because the screening interval will be reduced from five years to three years.

The changes will come into effect by January 2011.

On Tuesday, Dr Stephen Dobbs, a cancer surgeon, said that although the changes mean women aged 25 to 49 would be checked more often, it would be harder to diagnose younger women.

He said: "At the City Hospital, we see and treat a number of women every year who have developed cervical cancer in their late teens or early 20s.

"These patients will not be picked up by the screening programme but we will have to rely on symptoms alone."

A department spokesperson said: "Cervical cancer is rare in young women and current evidence indicates that screening is not effective in women in this age group because those who develop cervical cancer were as likely to be screened as unscreened.

Programme

The spokesperson also said that it had "introduced a Human Papillomavirus Vaccination(HPV) Programme to protect young girls in Northern Ireland against future risk of developing cervical cancer".

"HPV vaccination prevents up to 70% of cervical cancers.

"From September 2008, girls in the age range from 12 up to 18 have been offered the vaccine as part of a routine and catch-up programme."

The spokesperson also said that "whilst the evidence shows that screening for women under the age of 25 is not effective, for those women over 25 it is vital they attend their appointment when invited".

"It is estimated in a well-screened population, four out of five cervical cancers can be prevented," the spokesperson said.

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