Age range change for cervical screening

The National Cervical Screening Programme will be changing the starting age for cervical screening from 20 to 25 years in 2019.

This decision has been made because there is now a strong body of evidence that screening women between the ages of 20 and 24 provides little benefit to women and can cause harm. The primary reason for this is the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes more than 90 per cent of cervical cancers is common in younger age groups and often clears up on its own.

Since the inception of the NCSP in 1990, there has been no reduction in cervical cancer incidence rates and mortality for women under 25 years. Screening in this age group provides little benefit to women, and can cause harm.

Increasing the age that women first start screening will reduce the potential harm of overtreatment of women under 25, such as over-diagnosis, increased stress and anxiety associated with additional tests and treatments and unnecessary colposcopy.

The age change is in line with that of many other countries including Australia, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, and Norway. The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer also recommends cervical screening begins at age 25.

The HPV vaccination programme in schools offers the best protection to younger age groups from HPV infections and invasive cancer. Progress with the programme’s coverage rates has been accelerated with boys now being offered the vaccination since 2017.

Until the screening age is raised to 25 years old, women aged between 20 to 24 years of old should continue screening as previously, and as directed by their GP or other cervical screening provider. Any women, including those outside the screening age range, who have concerning symptoms such as unusual vaginal bleeding should see their health care provider who will arrange appropriate tests.

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Page last updated: 07 June 2018