I read that it’s important for women over the age of 50 to have regular screenings for cervical cancer. I’m a 54-year-old woman in good health. Am I at increased risk of cervical cancer due to my age?
Mr Tim Broadhead, consultant gynaecologist, Spire Leeds Hospital
Despite your concern, most cases of cervical cancer occur in those under the age of 50. Cervical screening is a method of trying to prevent cancer by detecting and treating early abnormalities,which if left untreated, could lead to cancer of the cervix.
Each year, around 3.5 million women are screened and since its introduction in 1988, the NHS cervical cancer screening programme has been responsible for halving rates of cervical cancer. Screening saves around 4500 lives each year and prevents about 75% of cervical cancers in women who attend regularly.
At the age of 25, women are invited to have a smear which is repeated every 3 years until 50, then every 5 years until the age of 65 after when no more are needed provided they have previously been normal. Around 1 in 20 will show an abnormality that may require further investigation with a test called colposcopy, where the cervix is carefully examined with a microscope to assess any change and determine appropriate treatment, if any.
Many of those who develop cervical cancer have never had a smear and screening is one of the best defences against it, so it is very important that you continue to have regular smears.