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 has the potential to cause harm. The primary reason for this is because screening is not effective in this age group at preventing cervical cancer.

Since the start of the NCSP in 1990 until 2013, there was no reduction in rates of cervical cancer for women under 25 years despite large reductions in both cancer incidence and mortality for women older than 25. Screening in this age group has provided little benefit to women.  

The age change is in line with many other countries including Australia, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, and Norway. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer also recommends that 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 of age in 2019, women aged between 20 to 24 years 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.


Page last updated: 07 June 2018