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New 'early warning' test for cervical screening

10 September 2013

​Changes to Jersey’s cervical screening programme are to be introduced, including a new test providing earlier warning of potential problems.

Major scientific advances over the past 20 years have led to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) test being developed for use in cervical screening (often referred to as a ‘smear test’). The HPV test will be introduced locally from 30 September.

Dr Fiona Nelson, Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician explained:

“If a smear sample shows mild abnormalities, we’ll be able to carry out a HPV test. If no HPV is found, this means it is very unlikely that the cell changes will develop into cervical cancer and the woman won’t require precautionary annual repeat smears, nor will she require treatment to her cervix. If HPV is found, this tells us, much sooner that we would otherwise have known, that we need to bring the woman to our Colposcopy clinic for treatment.
“Being able to perform this test is positive news for women in Jersey. Many women experience transient changes to the cervix which in time go away naturally and wouldn’t have caused them any problems. However, until now, we’ve had no way of distinguishing, at an early stage, which abnormalities would regress naturally and which need treatment to prevent them possibly becoming cancerous in the future. With the new HPV test, we’ll be able to target treatment much sooner to those that need it.
Dr Linda Diggle, Head of Healthcare Programmes in the Public Health department, outlined two other changes being made to Jersey’s screening programme: a rise in the starting age to 25; and the adjustment of the screening interval for those aged 50 to 64 from three to five years.
“Evidence shows that one in three young women in the 20-24 age group would be expected to have an abnormal screening result due to the presence of HPV infection,” she said. “Cervical cancer is extremely rare in younger women and we know that 90% of the infections in this age group will clear within two years. This means there are large numbers of false positives amongst young women which cause anxiety, and could lead to unnecessary investigations and / or treatment which could in turn increase the risk of future gynaecological or obstetric complications.
“England and Northern Ireland raised their screening age to 25 in 2004, and Scotland, Wales and ourselves have looked at the evidence in great detail,” added Dr Diggle. “Our local screening steering group, which includes gynaecology and obstetric consultants and GP representatives, has recommended raising the screening age to 25 in Jersey, as is happening in Wales and Scotland. Women under 25 who are already in the screening programme will be able to continue.
“The UK National Screening Committee also advised that women aged 50-64 should be screened every five years. This is because abnormal cells develop more slowly in women aged over 49 and three-yearly screening does not offer any additional protection for women in this age group.”
The changes to the screening programme will be introduced at the same time as the HPV test at the end of September.
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