Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women and is usually curable with early detection. Every woman aged 25 years and above should routinely undergo screening to help prevent cervical cancer. Recent headlines in the media have sparked debate about recommendations from the UK National Screening Committee on cervical cancer screening.

What is an HPV test?

An HPV test is a laboratory test in which cells are tested for DNA from certain types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that are known to cause cervical cancer. These high-risk types of HPV can also cause other types of cancer including cancers of the anus, penis, oropharynx, vagina, and vulva.

What is a PAP Smear test?

A PAP smear test is a procedure in which a small brush is used to gently remove cells from the surface of the cervix and the area around it so they can be checked for cervical cancer or cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. A PAP Smear test may also identify other conditions, such as inflammation or infections.

What is the new cervical screening programme in the UK

The UK National Screening Committee has recommended that all UK nations implement the new cervical HPV screening test and intervals. Scotland and Wales are the first to implement the new intervals. England is expected to follow suit and Northern Ireland has not moved to HPV primary testing.

This month Wales officially announced these changes to their cervical screening programme. The change advises that all people with a cervix aged between 25 and 64 are invited to cervical screening every 5 years. Previously women aged 25 to 49 were invited every 3 years and women aged 50 to 64 every 5 years.

The decision has been controversial with many people worried that the longer interval between screening tests will result in cervical cancers being missed. The extension from 3 to 5 years between screening has been recommended because the new test used in cervical screening has changed.

What is the new cervical screening test?

The previous cervical screening test aimed to detect unusual changes in the cervix. The new test involves taking a less invasive sample and tests for HPV first, this is known as HPV primary testing.

As having HPV infection occurs before abnormal cells developing, HPV primary testing detects women at risk of developing cervical cancer at an earlier stage. Cervical cancer normally takes many years to develop. If you test negative for HPV, then your risk of developing cervical cancer in the next 5 years is small.

UK Statistics for cervical cancer

The graph below shows the average number of deaths per year and age-specific mortality rates per 100,000 female population in the UK from 2016 to 2018. Age-specific mortality rates rise steadily from around age 20-24 and more steeply from around age 65-69.

UK Statistics for cervical cancer

Additional statistics relating to the age at diagnosis show that around 90% of women with cervical cancer aged 15-39 survive their disease for 5 years or more, compared with around 25% of women aged 80 years or over.

Since 2005 the number of deaths from cervical cancer has generally decreased. This is believed partly to be a result of the introduction of HPV vaccines, improved treatment and early detection through testing.

What do the global statistics for cervical cancer look like?

The World Health Organization states that cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. In 2018, an estimated 570,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and about 311,000 women died from the disease.

Effective primary (HPV vaccination) and secondary prevention approaches (screening for and treating precancerous lesions) will prevent most cervical cancer cases.

When diagnosed, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer if it is detected early and managed effectively.

How can you prevent HPV which can cause cervical cancer?

Better2Know provides HPV vaccinations for those who are concerned about Genital Warts or HPV. These vaccines will protect you from several types of the virus, including types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.

These types are associated with causing most cases of HPV related cancers and Genital Warts. You will need 3 doses of the vaccine to be fully protected. Each dose will be administered at intervals of 1−2 months and 6−12 months. A booster dose is also recommended once every 5 years.

How can you check your overall sexual health?

Better2Know can assist you in taking care of all aspects of your sexual health including HPV testing, PAP Smears and many common STIs. If you are worried about your sexual health, then speak with one of our highly trained personal advisors privately today by phone or live chat.

Our team is here to help you 24 hours a day, seven days a week to obtain peace of mind about your health. We can arrange confidential testing at a clinic near you, with a private nurse visit, or you can order a convenient home test kit.


[1] Cancer.gov: Cervical Cancer

[2] Cancerresearchuk.org: Cervical screening in Wales extended to every 5 years: Why the switch?

[3] Medicalnewstoday.com: HPV blood test vs. Pap smear: Which is best?

[4] Statista.com: Number of deaths from cervical cancer in England published by Conor Stewart

[5] Cks.nice.org.uk: What is the prognosis for women with cervical cancer?

Image: Cervical cancer mortality by age

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