Cervical cancer 50% higher if no screening

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THE CERVICAL cancer screening programme stops up to 3,900 incidences of the disease every year and cancer rates would be at least 50 per cent higher without it, its 10 year review said yesterday.

But it admitted that "serious, if isolated problems" have dogged the service and women must realise that no test could ever be 100 per cent accurate in diagnosing cervical cancer.

Launching the review, the Health minister, Baroness Hayman, compared the smear test to wearing a seatbelt - not a guarantee against dying but something that greatly reduces the risk of doing so.

The programme reviewshows that the death rate from cervical cancer is falling by 7 per cent each year. In 1997 it was 3.7 per 100,000 women compared with 7 per 100,000 in 1979. The rates of cancer would be at least 50 per cent greater if there was no screening problem and attendance for regular screening prevents up to 90 per cent of cervical cancer.

Around 85 per cent of all women attend screenings, up from over 20 per cent in 1987/8 when the programme began. Around 4.5 million smears are examined every year.

"We are not going to pretend we haven't had problems," said Julietta Patnick, national co-ordinator of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.

"But what you see here is a very successful programme, a falling number of cases, a falling number of deaths, a reversal of trends."

Baroness Hayman said the Government had been responsible for a radical shake-up which would result in improvements in training staff and reporting back.

"Every woman would like a guarantee of health from the results but that is not possible," she said. "As the report suggests, screening can greatly reduce the risk but never eliminate it completely."