Smear tests 'boost cure chances'

HPV on a smear The human papilloma virus can cause cervical cancer

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Women diagnosed with cervical cancer as a result of a smear test have a far better chance of being cured than women who do not go for tests, a Swedish study suggests.

The researchers found a 92% cure rate after a smear test diagnosis, compared with 66% for symptoms-based diagnoses.

The study in bmj.com looked at all women diagnosed with cervical cancer in Sweden between 1999 and 2001.

A cancer charity said screening saved 5,000 UK lives a year.

The Swedish research, carried out at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, followed 1,230 women for an average of eight years after diagnosis.

To estimate the chances of surviving cervical cancer, the study analysed cancers detected by an abnormal smear test result and all other cases based on diagnosis using symptoms.

The percentage of women cured after presenting with symptoms within the recommended interval between screenings was 74%.

But for women with symptoms who were overdue for screening, this cure rate decreased to 60%.

Researchers found that the chances of being cured for all women who had a smear test within the recommended three to five years were 11% higher than for women who were overdue or who had never had a smear test.

This is a result of screen-detected cancers generally being found at an earlier stage, the study says.

Three-quarters of the 373 women who died from cervical cancer in the Swedish study had not had a cervical smear in the recommended timeframe.

CERVICAL SCREENING IN UK

In England, women aged 25 to 49 are invited every three years.

Women aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years.

In Northern Ireland, women aged 25 to 49 are invited every three years.

Women aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years.

In Scotland, women aged 20 to 60 invited every three years.

In Wales, women aged 20 to 64 invited every three years.

Dr Bengt Andrae, study author and senior consultant gynaecologist at Uppsala University, said that screening both reduced the risk of cervical cancer and was linked with improved likelihood of cure.

"Even if you have not gone to cervical screening before, go when you are invited because you have a much better prognosis than waiting for the symptoms to appear."

Recent NHS figures show that one in five UK women decline the offer of a smear test.

The Swedish cervical screening programme invites women aged 23-50 to attend every three years and women aged 51-60 to attend every five years.

This is very similar to the UK's cervical screening programme, although there are variations across the country.

Robert Music, director of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said the research highlighted the importance of attending cervical screening.

"Cervical cancer is largely preventable thanks to cervical screening which saves 5,000 UK lives a year. And for those diagnosed, survival rates are good if the disease is caught early.

But he said he was concerned about the downward trend in screening attendance.

"Three pieces of research the charity has undertaken over the past year have identified a number of barriers to attending screening.

"There is an urgent need for more investment in targeted campaigns to remind women that they can take proactive steps to reduce their risk of cervical cancer by attending screening. Quite simply it could save their life."

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