Cervical screening prevents nearly 70% of cervical cancer deaths, according to a study published in the British Journal of Cancer. However, the study adds that if all eligible women were screened regularly this percentage would increase to 83%, meaning that half of the deaths occurring currently in England also could be prevented.
The study, “Impact of cervical screening on cervical cancer mortality: estimation using stage-specific results from a nested case–control study,” was developed by researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). It is the first study to assess the impact of cervical screening in the prevention of cervical cancer death.
“Thousands of women in the UK are alive and healthy today thanks to cervical screening,” Professor Peter Sasieni, PhD, from QMUL’s Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, and study’s lead researcher, said in a press release. “The cervical screening program already prevents thousands of cancers each year, and as it continues to improve by testing all samples for the human papillomavirus, even more women are likely to avoid this disease,” he said.
The National Health Service Screening Program was established in England in 1988, offering cervical cancer screening to women aged 25 to 64. Soon after, studies began evaluating the effectiveness of this program in preventing cervical cancer, but the effect of screening on cervical cancer mortality remained to be assessed, given the need for large number of patients and lengthy follow-up.
In this study, the researchers examined data from 11,619 women ages 25-79 with cervical cancer diagnoses, and “looked at the impact of cervical screening on deaths from the disease and estimated the number of lives the screening program saves each year,” said Sasieni.
They found that screening prevented 70% of cervical cancer deaths, suggesting that without screening, an additional 1,827 women would have died from the disease. But importantly, if all women were screened regularly, this prevention could reach 83%, meaning an extra 347 lives could be spared, and reducing by half the number of current deaths from cervical cancer.
The study also revealed that the screening program had the biggest impact among older women (aged 50-64 years); without screening, the number of cervical cancer deaths within this group would be five times higher.
“Whether or not to go for screening is an individual choice, but Cancer Research UK recommends women take up the offer to attend cervical screening when invited,” said Claire Knight, health information manager at Cancer Research UK.
“It’s important to remember that cervical screening is for women without symptoms,” Knight said. “Women who have any unusual or persistent bleeding, pain or change in vaginal discharge — even if they’ve been screened recently and whatever their age — should get it checked out by their GP (general practitioner. Chances are it won’t be cancer, but if it is, getting it diagnosed and treated early can make a real difference,” she added.