Today marks the start of Cervical Screening Awareness Week in the UK, and a review published today in the British Medical Journal is calling for the cervical screening age to be extended past 65.

One of the most effective ways of preventing cervical cancer, screening is offered by the UK’s National Health Service to women aged 25 to 64.

Yet new research has found that about 20% of cervical cancer cases diagnosed in the UK each year are in women aged over 65.

The analysis, from Keele University researchers, also points out that 50% of deaths from cervical cancer occur after this age range, contradicting the belief that the disease mostly affects younger women.

“We need to change the perception of cervical cancer so it is thought of just like breast and bowel cancer - that it can affect women well into old age,” said Susan Sherman, senior lecturer in Psychology at Keele University.

Sherman adds:

“If older women believe that they are not at risk or are at reduced risk of cervical cancer because of their age and there is no ongoing health literacy aimed at those women, there is no reason for them to attend routine screening, look out for symptoms, or re-enter the screening programme if they have previously opted out”.

In an unrelated report by cancer charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, a disturbing lack of knowledge about the causes of the disease and who is at risk from it was noted.

Virtually two thirds of women aged 50-64 are unaware that the human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer. Many did not link historic sexual activity to risks for the virus laying dormant and developing into the disease later in life, the charity underlined.

Illustration: Human papilloma virus / Credit Pete Jeffs, Wellcome Images

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