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  • Health & Medicine

Cervical screening in Wales extended to every 5 years: Why the switch?

by Alice Davies | Analysis

7 January 2022

21 comments 21 comments

A 3d rendered image of HPV cells
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), depicted above.

This article was originally published in 2022 but was edited in 2024 to reflect Northern Ireland using HPV Primary Testing

This week, Wales announced changes to their cervical screening programme.

The change – which will bring Wales in line with the recommendations of the UK National Screening Committee – advises that all people with a cervix aged between 25 and 64 are invited to cervical screening every 5 years. This is different to what’s been happening, where women aged 25 to 49 have been invited to cervical screening every 3 years and women aged 50 to 64 have been invited every 5 years.

It’s a decision that’s made headlines, with many people worried that the longer interval between screening tests will result in cervical cancers being missed.

But there’s more to this change than meets the eye.

The extension from 3 to 5 years between screening has been recommended because the test used in cervical screening has changed. The new test detects who is at higher risk of developing cervical cancer more accurately than the previous test used in cervical screening. This means that the current intervals between screening tests can be safely extended for people who are not at high risk.

The new and improved programme

To understand why the new cervical screening test is better at spotting women at higher risk of cervical cancer, it’s helpful to know how cervical cancer develops.

Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is a common virus that infects the skin and cells lining the inside of the body. There are over 100 different types and around 13 “high risk” types are linked to cancer.

8 in 10 people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives, but in most cases the infection will be cleared on its own and they will never know they had it.

However, sometimes these infections aren’t cleared. This is when damage to DNA can happen, which causes changes to the cells in our body. These cell changes can be resolved on their own, but they can also lead to cancer if left untreated over a long period of time.

Graphic explaining how HPV causes cancer.

Copy this link to share our graphic. Credit: Cancer Research UK

The previous cervical screening test aimed to detect unusual changes in the cervix.

The new test involves the same procedure of taking a sample from the cervix but tests for HPV first – known as ‘HPV primary testing’. As having HPV infection comes before abnormal cells developing, HPV primary testing detects women at risk of developing cervical cancer at an earlier point.

Why the switch to 5-year intervals?

Screening every 5 years with HPV testing offers at least as good protection as the old test being offered every 3 years. Cervical cancer usually takes many years to develop and if someone tests negative for HPV, then their risk of developing cervical cancer in the next 5 years is very small.

What about the rest of the UK?

The UK National Screening Committee has recommended that all UK nations implement the new cervical screening test and intervals. Scotland and Wales are the first to implement the new intervals. England and Northern Ireland have introduced HPV primary testing but not announced any changes to intervals.

If a person’s sample tests negative for HPV, they will be invited back for routine cervical screening in 5 years . This is because their risk of developing cervical cancer is very low.

But if their result indicates the presence of HPV, they will be invited back for screening sooner or referred for other tests depending on whether there are also signs of abnormal cells in the cervical sample.

So, the new test allows women to be invited back for screening based on their risk of developing cervical cancer, rather than just their age.

It’s important to remember that no cancer screening test is 100% accurate and a negative result doesn’t guarantee a clean bill of health. If you spot any changes that aren’t normal for you, speak to your doctor. Cancer screening is for healthy people who do not have any symptoms, so if you notice anything that doesn’t feel right between screens, then don’t wait for your next appointment, speak to your doctor straight away.


    Comments

  • Ann
    7 March 2022

    What about women with in utero DES exposure? It may be true that most cases of cervical cancer are caused by DES, but some forms of vaginal and cervical cancer do have other causes. I feel like this change to only looking for HPV is now a death sentence for people like me with DES exposure. Are there any other options in NHS Wales for people like me?

  • Maureen
    1 March 2022

    Great work , shows how much your research helps !
    Thank you 🙏🏻

  • Russell
    28 February 2022

    Why does testing stop at 64?

  • reply
    Jacob Smith
    7 June 2022

    Hi Russell,

    Thanks for your question.

    Regular cervical screening provides lasting protection against cervical cancer. Research shows that people who have regularly attended cervical screening when invited are very unlikely to develop cervical cancer after 64.

    Cervical screening is offered at ages when the benefits are biggest, and the harms are smallest. The balance is not clear for those aged 64 and over, and the risks of screening may be greater.

    But remember, screening is for people without symptoms. No matter their age, if someone notices any changes to their body that are unusual for them or don’t go away, they should tell their doctor.

    Thanks,
    Jacob

  • Charles Breden
    27 February 2022

    This I think is it good idea and if it helps the chances of many people being diagnosed before it’s too late then I should be good I’m should be done and if it can be done no matter what age group then vary enough let’s go ahead with it,

    I am 70 in October this year what is my chances of binge aving a test

  • Jo
    27 February 2022

    I can’t believe that we have to wait until we are mid 20’s to have the test. I had to have a total hysterectomy (tubes, everything) at the age 28. The girl in the bed next to me was 19 years of age, having the op. We weren’t even old enough to be called for a smear. Ladies over 69 have to really make a fuss to get one..disgusting!!!!

  • Sylvia Bishop
    27 February 2022

    Think its great. But now people are living much longer active lives i feel there should be tests done to all ages.

  • C.J. Chilvers
    26 February 2022

    Grateful for this updated information.

  • Angie
    26 February 2022

    I’m 63 and bought the HPV test as I find the regular test is very painful now. I score negative on the 2 main strains but positive on the panel test. I’m not sure what would happen in a NHS setting. Would I be asked to have a smear? I suspect it has been like this for years already from a comment my GP made

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    3 March 2022

    Dear Angie,

    Thank you for reaching out to us with your query.

    The NHS cervical screening programme is offered to those aged 25-64. As part of the screening programme, a sample is taken from the cervix and tested for the virus that causes almost all cases of cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV). If HPV is found, then the sample will also be checked for cell changes and further procedures might be needed if changes are seen.

    HPV 16 and 18 are the strains which cause the majority of cervical cancers, but there are at least 12 strains that are high risk for cervical cancer. NHS cervical screening tests for all high risk strains. From your enquiry it seems you may have used a private HPV test, if you are concerned about your results, or would like to discuss attending a NHS screening appointment, then speak to your GP for advice.

    If you have found cervical screening painful previously, there are ways to help make it more comfortable. You could discuss with the nurse or doctor about using a different sized speculum (the tool used to see the cervix) or they can help you find a more comfortable position and help you relax. You can also ask your doctor about prescribing a short course of hormone replacement therapy, known as HRT. This prevents vaginal dryness after the menopause which can make cervical screening more comfortable.

    If you have any further concerns, you might want to speak to our Cancer Research UK information nurses on 0808 800 4040. You can call them for free Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Zarah Lowe
    25 February 2022

    Is this being done in any other country? Has there been any pilot which safely tests this approach? If not I think this is an incredibly risky approach and there have been far too many other occasions where assurances have been made that something else is the right approach and it is proved not to be. Also, cancer is cunning, it finds a way to get past the defences we put up. This approach makes the assumption that how it is now will remain the same in the future.

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    7 March 2022

    Dear Zarah,

    Thank you for your question.

    The change was made after years of research and was recommended by the UK National Screening Committee. They are an independent body that review evidence on screening and advise how screening programmes can be best run with developments in scientific research.

    Scotland has already made the change from 3 years to 5 years and England will be changing soon too. The change was recommended because the cervical screening test has improved. Previously, cervical screening tested first for abnormal cells, which if left untreated over a long time can develop into cancer. The test now first looks for human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes the abnormal cells.

    As HPV causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer this test is more accurate at identifying those at risk, so screening can be safely offered less often. If someone’s cervical screening result shows they don’t have HPV, they are at a very low risk of developing cervical cancer in the next five years. Evidence showed that a gap of 5 years with HPV primary testing gave more protection against cervical cancer than screening every 3 years with the previous way of testing.

    However, please remember that cancer screening is for people who do not have any symptoms. So, if you notice anything that doesn’t feel right speak to your doctor straight away.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Sharon
    25 February 2022

    I think this is incredible news and I would love to be a part of this trial. My Dad died in Derby Macmillan Unit Sat 05/02/2022 after being diagnosed 3 weeks earlier of metastases of the liver and stomach. I am devastated…

  • Diane
    25 February 2022

    How will i know uf i had the new test.

  • Joanie Coupe
    24 February 2022

    I think this a fantastic result from the Cancer research teams. I am hoping and praying this comes to England and the rest of th UK very soon. I unfortunately had breast cancer in 2018 I am “ fully recovered “. But you never know when the badness will return. Thank you so much for all your hard work it is greatly appreciated.
    Regards
    Joanie Coupe xx

  • Jo Williams
    24 February 2022

    What about people older than 64 don’t they count?

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    2 March 2022

    Dear Jo,

    Thank you for your question.

    Regular cervical screening provides lasting protection against cervical cancer. Research shows that people who have regularly attended cervical screening when invited are very unlikely to develop cervical cancer after 64. Cervical screening is offered at ages when the benefits are biggest, and the harms are smallest. The balance is not clear for those aged 64 and over, and the risks of screening may be greater.

    But remember, screening is for people without symptoms. No matter your age, if you notice any changes to your body that are unusual for you or don’t go away, tell your doctor.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Susan Hodson
    24 February 2022

    Brilliant news

  • D Tunney
    23 February 2022

    What about the women who are having negative but have cervical cancer ? They will be missed by using have positive as a screen
    At the lab I worked at we had at least 3 women who were hpv neg but had cervical cancer these women would go onto develop terminal cancer 3 deaths could be prevented by a smear test and not hpv testing only they would be told they didn’t have cancer as they were hpv neg .has the government accepted this fact that women will die of cervical cancer as they are hpv negative ?

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    2 March 2022

    Hi D Tunney,

    Thank you for reaching out to us with your query.

    Previously, cervical screening tested for abnormal cells first. The test now first looks for human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes virtually all (99.8%) of cervical cancers. So, if someone’s sample comes back showing they don’t have HPV, they are at a very low risk of developing cervical cancer in the next five years. As having HPV infection comes before abnormal cells developing, there is no need to test cells for abnormal changes if someone does not have HPV.

    This is why the National Screening Committee have recommended this change, and projected that it will detect more women with cervical cell changes and save more lives.

    Many thanks,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • C Yates
    23 February 2022

    What about those people over 64,who, apparently are still able to succumb to cervical cancer and have not been offered the new test?

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    2 March 2022

    Dear C Yates,

    Thank you for reaching out to us with your query.

    Regular cervical screening provides lasting protection against cervical cancer. Research shows that people who have regularly attended cervical screening when invited are very unlikely to develop cervical cancer after 64. Cervical screening is offered at ages when the benefits are biggest, and the harms are smallest. The balance is not clear for those aged 64 and over, and the risks of screening may be greater.

    But remember, screening is for people without symptoms. No matter your age, if you notice any changes to your body that are unusual for you or don’t go away, tell your doctor.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Annette Lowe
    17 February 2022

    Please can you offer reasurance. My test came back HPV negative. My letter goes on to say as this “is low risk” therefore my cervical cells were not looked at. I find this very distressing indeed when 5.5% – 11% of cervical cancers are not caused by HPV. This is NOT low risk. So why are cervical cells no longer checked so that cervical cancers not caused by HPV are picked up early? I agreet with the inporovements made to screening a 5 year gap is reasonable but to not check cervical cells at all is totally unacceptable.

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    23 February 2022

    Dear Annette,

    Thank you for reaching out to us with your query.

    Previously, cervical screening tested for abnormal cells first. The test now first looks for human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes virtually all (99.8%) of cervical cancers. So, if someone’s sample comes back negative for HPV, they are at a very low risk of developing cervical cancer in the next five years. As having HPV infection comes before abnormal cells developing, there is no need to test cells for abnormal changes if someone does not have HPV.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Katie
    7 February 2022

    I wonder if you can offer some reassurance ….. I had several abnormal smears that eventually were classed as CIN3. I had colposcopy and LLETZ under GA. I have always been HPV negative.
    My smears as I understand are no longer tested because of my HPV status – so how can it be guaranteed that I won’t develop CIN again and it go undetected and turn into cervical cancer?

  • Karen R
    14 January 2022

    England have been using the HPV testing for several years now, at least the last 2 or 3 times (3 yearly ones I’ve had)and we are constantly being told how important it is not to miss our 3 yearly checks and how much at risk we put ourselves if we don’t get checked. I’ve read many stories in recent years of women who have delayed their cervical screening by months for one reason or another who have found they have cancer so how does extending the 3 year period to a 5 year period make the test more accurate and safer for us.

  • reply
    Katie Roberts
    18 February 2022

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for your comment. England began to implement HPV primary testing in 2019, so it’s possible that your last screening appointment was with the new test. Before this, HPV tests were only done when abnormal cells were found in screening samples. As having HPV infection comes before abnormal cells developing, HPV primary testing detects women at risk of developing cervical cancer at an earlier point and more accurately. This is why the National Screening Committee have recommended this change, and projected that it will detect more women with cervical cell changes and save more lives.

    Best wishes,

    Katie, Cancer Research UK

  • Adele
    12 January 2022

    Hi does this take into consideration the women that were tested by the old way ? If someone was coming up to their 3 year appointment will that still happen or is it going to get pushed back to 5 years ? Thank you

  • reply
    Katie Roberts
    18 February 2022

    Hi Adele,

    Thanks for your comment. The new intervals will be implemented from people’s next screening test. So for people who are coming up to their 3 year appointment, their screening test will go ahead as before, but their next one will be in 5 years provided that they are not at high risk of cervical cancer.

    Best wishes,

    Katie, Cancer Research UK

  • Claire
    7 January 2022

    This is bonkers. I don’t understand how changing the frequency of testing still ” offers at least as good protection” surely if a new test is being brought out or a change of frequency it should be because the test offers either a much better test or higher accuracy what will happen if more people are missed with the reduced testing? You have already stated that no cancer screening is 100% accurate so leaving longer in between tests seems absurd.

  • reply
    Katie Roberts
    18 February 2022

    Hi Claire,

    Thanks for your comment. The new test detects who is at higher risk of developing cervical cancer more accurately than the previous test used in cervical screening. This is why the intervals between screening tests can be safely extended for people who are not at high risk. The recommendation for 5 yearly intervals also takes into account the benefits and harms of screening to find the place where they are best balanced for the whole population, allowing screening to benefit the most people. In this case, balancing the reduction in cervical cancer risk with the harms that can arise from things such as further investigations from screening tests.

    Best wishes,

    Katie, Cancer Research UK

    Comments

  • Ann
    7 March 2022

    What about women with in utero DES exposure? It may be true that most cases of cervical cancer are caused by DES, but some forms of vaginal and cervical cancer do have other causes. I feel like this change to only looking for HPV is now a death sentence for people like me with DES exposure. Are there any other options in NHS Wales for people like me?

  • Maureen
    1 March 2022

    Great work , shows how much your research helps !
    Thank you 🙏🏻

  • Russell
    28 February 2022

    Why does testing stop at 64?

  • reply
    Jacob Smith
    7 June 2022

    Hi Russell,

    Thanks for your question.

    Regular cervical screening provides lasting protection against cervical cancer. Research shows that people who have regularly attended cervical screening when invited are very unlikely to develop cervical cancer after 64.

    Cervical screening is offered at ages when the benefits are biggest, and the harms are smallest. The balance is not clear for those aged 64 and over, and the risks of screening may be greater.

    But remember, screening is for people without symptoms. No matter their age, if someone notices any changes to their body that are unusual for them or don’t go away, they should tell their doctor.

    Thanks,
    Jacob

  • Charles Breden
    27 February 2022

    This I think is it good idea and if it helps the chances of many people being diagnosed before it’s too late then I should be good I’m should be done and if it can be done no matter what age group then vary enough let’s go ahead with it,

    I am 70 in October this year what is my chances of binge aving a test

  • Jo
    27 February 2022

    I can’t believe that we have to wait until we are mid 20’s to have the test. I had to have a total hysterectomy (tubes, everything) at the age 28. The girl in the bed next to me was 19 years of age, having the op. We weren’t even old enough to be called for a smear. Ladies over 69 have to really make a fuss to get one..disgusting!!!!

  • Sylvia Bishop
    27 February 2022

    Think its great. But now people are living much longer active lives i feel there should be tests done to all ages.

  • C.J. Chilvers
    26 February 2022

    Grateful for this updated information.

  • Angie
    26 February 2022

    I’m 63 and bought the HPV test as I find the regular test is very painful now. I score negative on the 2 main strains but positive on the panel test. I’m not sure what would happen in a NHS setting. Would I be asked to have a smear? I suspect it has been like this for years already from a comment my GP made

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    3 March 2022

    Dear Angie,

    Thank you for reaching out to us with your query.

    The NHS cervical screening programme is offered to those aged 25-64. As part of the screening programme, a sample is taken from the cervix and tested for the virus that causes almost all cases of cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV). If HPV is found, then the sample will also be checked for cell changes and further procedures might be needed if changes are seen.

    HPV 16 and 18 are the strains which cause the majority of cervical cancers, but there are at least 12 strains that are high risk for cervical cancer. NHS cervical screening tests for all high risk strains. From your enquiry it seems you may have used a private HPV test, if you are concerned about your results, or would like to discuss attending a NHS screening appointment, then speak to your GP for advice.

    If you have found cervical screening painful previously, there are ways to help make it more comfortable. You could discuss with the nurse or doctor about using a different sized speculum (the tool used to see the cervix) or they can help you find a more comfortable position and help you relax. You can also ask your doctor about prescribing a short course of hormone replacement therapy, known as HRT. This prevents vaginal dryness after the menopause which can make cervical screening more comfortable.

    If you have any further concerns, you might want to speak to our Cancer Research UK information nurses on 0808 800 4040. You can call them for free Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Zarah Lowe
    25 February 2022

    Is this being done in any other country? Has there been any pilot which safely tests this approach? If not I think this is an incredibly risky approach and there have been far too many other occasions where assurances have been made that something else is the right approach and it is proved not to be. Also, cancer is cunning, it finds a way to get past the defences we put up. This approach makes the assumption that how it is now will remain the same in the future.

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    7 March 2022

    Dear Zarah,

    Thank you for your question.

    The change was made after years of research and was recommended by the UK National Screening Committee. They are an independent body that review evidence on screening and advise how screening programmes can be best run with developments in scientific research.

    Scotland has already made the change from 3 years to 5 years and England will be changing soon too. The change was recommended because the cervical screening test has improved. Previously, cervical screening tested first for abnormal cells, which if left untreated over a long time can develop into cancer. The test now first looks for human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes the abnormal cells.

    As HPV causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer this test is more accurate at identifying those at risk, so screening can be safely offered less often. If someone’s cervical screening result shows they don’t have HPV, they are at a very low risk of developing cervical cancer in the next five years. Evidence showed that a gap of 5 years with HPV primary testing gave more protection against cervical cancer than screening every 3 years with the previous way of testing.

    However, please remember that cancer screening is for people who do not have any symptoms. So, if you notice anything that doesn’t feel right speak to your doctor straight away.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Sharon
    25 February 2022

    I think this is incredible news and I would love to be a part of this trial. My Dad died in Derby Macmillan Unit Sat 05/02/2022 after being diagnosed 3 weeks earlier of metastases of the liver and stomach. I am devastated…

  • Diane
    25 February 2022

    How will i know uf i had the new test.

  • Joanie Coupe
    24 February 2022

    I think this a fantastic result from the Cancer research teams. I am hoping and praying this comes to England and the rest of th UK very soon. I unfortunately had breast cancer in 2018 I am “ fully recovered “. But you never know when the badness will return. Thank you so much for all your hard work it is greatly appreciated.
    Regards
    Joanie Coupe xx

  • Jo Williams
    24 February 2022

    What about people older than 64 don’t they count?

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    2 March 2022

    Dear Jo,

    Thank you for your question.

    Regular cervical screening provides lasting protection against cervical cancer. Research shows that people who have regularly attended cervical screening when invited are very unlikely to develop cervical cancer after 64. Cervical screening is offered at ages when the benefits are biggest, and the harms are smallest. The balance is not clear for those aged 64 and over, and the risks of screening may be greater.

    But remember, screening is for people without symptoms. No matter your age, if you notice any changes to your body that are unusual for you or don’t go away, tell your doctor.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Susan Hodson
    24 February 2022

    Brilliant news

  • D Tunney
    23 February 2022

    What about the women who are having negative but have cervical cancer ? They will be missed by using have positive as a screen
    At the lab I worked at we had at least 3 women who were hpv neg but had cervical cancer these women would go onto develop terminal cancer 3 deaths could be prevented by a smear test and not hpv testing only they would be told they didn’t have cancer as they were hpv neg .has the government accepted this fact that women will die of cervical cancer as they are hpv negative ?

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    2 March 2022

    Hi D Tunney,

    Thank you for reaching out to us with your query.

    Previously, cervical screening tested for abnormal cells first. The test now first looks for human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes virtually all (99.8%) of cervical cancers. So, if someone’s sample comes back showing they don’t have HPV, they are at a very low risk of developing cervical cancer in the next five years. As having HPV infection comes before abnormal cells developing, there is no need to test cells for abnormal changes if someone does not have HPV.

    This is why the National Screening Committee have recommended this change, and projected that it will detect more women with cervical cell changes and save more lives.

    Many thanks,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • C Yates
    23 February 2022

    What about those people over 64,who, apparently are still able to succumb to cervical cancer and have not been offered the new test?

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    2 March 2022

    Dear C Yates,

    Thank you for reaching out to us with your query.

    Regular cervical screening provides lasting protection against cervical cancer. Research shows that people who have regularly attended cervical screening when invited are very unlikely to develop cervical cancer after 64. Cervical screening is offered at ages when the benefits are biggest, and the harms are smallest. The balance is not clear for those aged 64 and over, and the risks of screening may be greater.

    But remember, screening is for people without symptoms. No matter your age, if you notice any changes to your body that are unusual for you or don’t go away, tell your doctor.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Annette Lowe
    17 February 2022

    Please can you offer reasurance. My test came back HPV negative. My letter goes on to say as this “is low risk” therefore my cervical cells were not looked at. I find this very distressing indeed when 5.5% – 11% of cervical cancers are not caused by HPV. This is NOT low risk. So why are cervical cells no longer checked so that cervical cancers not caused by HPV are picked up early? I agreet with the inporovements made to screening a 5 year gap is reasonable but to not check cervical cells at all is totally unacceptable.

  • reply
    Lilly Matson
    23 February 2022

    Dear Annette,

    Thank you for reaching out to us with your query.

    Previously, cervical screening tested for abnormal cells first. The test now first looks for human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes virtually all (99.8%) of cervical cancers. So, if someone’s sample comes back negative for HPV, they are at a very low risk of developing cervical cancer in the next five years. As having HPV infection comes before abnormal cells developing, there is no need to test cells for abnormal changes if someone does not have HPV.

    Best wishes,
    Lilly, Cancer Research UK

  • Katie
    7 February 2022

    I wonder if you can offer some reassurance ….. I had several abnormal smears that eventually were classed as CIN3. I had colposcopy and LLETZ under GA. I have always been HPV negative.
    My smears as I understand are no longer tested because of my HPV status – so how can it be guaranteed that I won’t develop CIN again and it go undetected and turn into cervical cancer?

  • Karen R
    14 January 2022

    England have been using the HPV testing for several years now, at least the last 2 or 3 times (3 yearly ones I’ve had)and we are constantly being told how important it is not to miss our 3 yearly checks and how much at risk we put ourselves if we don’t get checked. I’ve read many stories in recent years of women who have delayed their cervical screening by months for one reason or another who have found they have cancer so how does extending the 3 year period to a 5 year period make the test more accurate and safer for us.

  • reply
    Katie Roberts
    18 February 2022

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for your comment. England began to implement HPV primary testing in 2019, so it’s possible that your last screening appointment was with the new test. Before this, HPV tests were only done when abnormal cells were found in screening samples. As having HPV infection comes before abnormal cells developing, HPV primary testing detects women at risk of developing cervical cancer at an earlier point and more accurately. This is why the National Screening Committee have recommended this change, and projected that it will detect more women with cervical cell changes and save more lives.

    Best wishes,

    Katie, Cancer Research UK

  • Adele
    12 January 2022

    Hi does this take into consideration the women that were tested by the old way ? If someone was coming up to their 3 year appointment will that still happen or is it going to get pushed back to 5 years ? Thank you

  • reply
    Katie Roberts
    18 February 2022

    Hi Adele,

    Thanks for your comment. The new intervals will be implemented from people’s next screening test. So for people who are coming up to their 3 year appointment, their screening test will go ahead as before, but their next one will be in 5 years provided that they are not at high risk of cervical cancer.

    Best wishes,

    Katie, Cancer Research UK

  • Claire
    7 January 2022

    This is bonkers. I don’t understand how changing the frequency of testing still ” offers at least as good protection” surely if a new test is being brought out or a change of frequency it should be because the test offers either a much better test or higher accuracy what will happen if more people are missed with the reduced testing? You have already stated that no cancer screening is 100% accurate so leaving longer in between tests seems absurd.

  • reply
    Katie Roberts
    18 February 2022

    Hi Claire,

    Thanks for your comment. The new test detects who is at higher risk of developing cervical cancer more accurately than the previous test used in cervical screening. This is why the intervals between screening tests can be safely extended for people who are not at high risk. The recommendation for 5 yearly intervals also takes into account the benefits and harms of screening to find the place where they are best balanced for the whole population, allowing screening to benefit the most people. In this case, balancing the reduction in cervical cancer risk with the harms that can arise from things such as further investigations from screening tests.

    Best wishes,

    Katie, Cancer Research UK