Why so many women are outraged over Wales’ changes to cervical cancer screening

Written by Amy Beecham

A change in the recommendations for cervical cancer screenings in Wales has sparked concern and outrage across the UK.

Over a million people have signed a petition protesting the decision to extend the gap between cervical cancer screening tests in Wales from three years to five.

As of 1 January 2022, women and those with a cervix aged between 25-49 in Wales will now have to wait five years instead of the previous three for routine cancer checks.

According to Cervical Screening Wales, the extension is due to the success of testing for human papillomavirus (HPV), and rollout of the HPV vaccine in secondary schools, which began in 2008.

However, the change has been met with concern from many women’s health campaigners across the UK. A Change.org petition calling for the decision to be reversed has gathered over 1.1 million signatures.

The petition reads: “On average 3,197 cases of cervical cancer are discovered each year with 854 deaths between 2016 and 2018, with only 51% surviving this type of cancer for more than 10 years.

“99.8% of cervical cancer cases are preventable, according to Cancer Research UK.

“Increasing the length of time between cervical screening is putting lives at risk.”

Cancer Research UK explains that the decision to extend the time between screenings 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 charity wrote on its website.

In England, all eligible people registered with a GP aged 25 to 49 currently receive invitations every three years, with those aged 50 to 64 receiving invitations every five years. Cervical screening is also not currently recommended for anyone under 25 years old who has not been invited.

In light of the criticism, Public Health Wales has apologised for not having “done enough to explain changes” to cervical screenings and causing “concern” among women.

In a tweet, the body wrote: “We are sorry. We haven’t done enough to explain the changes to cervical screening and have caused concern.

“We are working to make this clearer and more information will be available as soon as we can today and in the coming days.”

There are around 3,200 new cervical cancer cases, with 850 cervical cancer deaths in the UK every year, according to Cancer Research.

However, over the last decade, cervical cancer mortality rates have decreased by around 18% in females in the UK and mortality rates for cervical cancer are projected to fall in future decades.

The petition to keep cervical screening to three years and not extended to five years in Wales can be found and signed here.

Images: Getty

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