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Changes to Scottish cervical screening programme

Scotland has increased the cervical screening age to 25 bringing it in line with practice elsewhere in the UK

Scotland has increased the cervical screening age to 25 bringing it in line with practice elsewhere in the UK.

Some of the other key changes included increasing the screening age to 64 years instead of 60 and the frequency will change to be every five years for women aged 50 to 64. The frequency will continue to be every three years from ages 25 to 49.

'Practice nurses have an extremely valuable role to play in ensuring that women are encouraged to attend and put at ease for this important screening process. We know that many women are worried about pain and discomfort, while some feel embarrassed about the intimacy of the procedure, and even about making the appointment itself,' said Mary Horne a practice nurse from NHS Lothian. 'That’s why it’s important to take time at the start to explain to the woman exactly what is going to happen and answer any questions they may have, reassuring them that there is no pain involved.'

Nurses should continue to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer. Any woman with symptoms should immediately see their doctor for assessment according to the local protocol.

Carol Colquhoun, national coordinator screening programmes at National Services Division, said: 'Changes have been decided based on a review of evidence about the effectiveness and benefits of screening women across age ranges. Data shows that screening women below the age of 25 has little or no impact on rates of invasive cervical cancer. For women over 50, five–yearly screening offers adequate protection and women up to the age of 64 can benefit from cervical screening.

Women will continue to be invited for screening by receiving a letter and leaflet automatically sent from the Scottish Cervical Call Recall System (SCCRS). Ms Colquhoun said that there will be cases when a woman aged between 20–24 years is invited on or after 6 June 2016 because she was previously invited before the changes ocurred. Health professionals should refer to the SCCRS before a smear test is taken to ensure the woman is eligible.

Research shows that many women still do not understand the benefits of cervical screening or the risk of cervical cancer. Women must be given appropriate information about cervical screening, and informed about the benefits and reassured and given further information by health professionals who are best placed to answer women’s questions. Cervical screening saves approximately 5000 lives in the UK every year.