Letter: Screening much improved

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Letter: Screening much improved

Sir: Cervical screening is the best and indeed the only way of detecting pre-cancer in a woman's cervix and of providing early and potentially life-saving treatment.

I share some of Dr Phil Hammond's concerns (column, 18 March) about the way that cervical screening was introduced in the 1960s and developed over the next 20 years. Fortunately, the cervical screening programme of today is a much improved model.

In 1988, the programme was reorganised and there are now national standards which everyone who works in cervical screening must meet and a quality assurance system to make sure they do.

Since 1988 the fall in the mortality rate, which had been running at 1 or 2 per cent a year, has risen to around 7 per cent every year. And an audit by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the NHS programme has shown that screening prevented nearly half the potential cases of cervical cancer in 1992.

It is true that for every woman whose life we save by detecting and treating a pre-cancerous condition that would have become cancer there are several women who are made anxious - however carefully we phrase the letter - by the news that they have abnormal results. This happens in every screening programme.

The important question - as Dr Hammond identifies - is "does the benefit in terms of lives saved outweigh the anxiety which may be caused to many women?" I believe that most women would answer with a resounding "yes".

JULIETTA PATNICK

National Co-ordinator

NHS Cervical Screening Programme

Sheffield

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