I read with interest the article entitled ‘Contract indicators will aid prevention of cervical cancer’ (Guidelines in Practice, July 2004). I would like to draw your readers’ attention to research just published in The Lancet (Vol 364, pp. 249-56), which shows that the screening programme is preventing up to 5000 deaths a year from cervical cancer in Britain.
The research analysed trends in mortality before 1988 (when the call and recall programme was introduced nationally) to estimate the increase in cervical cancer mortality that would have taken place if the programme had not been introduced. Findings include:
- The cervical cancer death rate increased threefold from 1967 to 1987 in women aged less than 35 years. This trend has been reversed since the national screening programme began.
- Cervical screening has prevented an increase in deaths from cervical cancer which would have killed an estimated one in 65 of all British women born since 1950.
- The death rate is substantially lower in women who were first screened when they were younger.
Regular screening is the best defence against cervical cancer. Recent changes in policy, which include our commitment to introducing liquid based cytology over the next five years, and the change to the age range and frequency of screening, mean that English women have access to one of the best cervical screening programmes in the world.
GPs play a key role in the delivery of this service and I urge them to continue to encourage women to attend for screening.
Julietta Patnick, Director, NHS Cancer Screening Programmes