Two scientists have come out strongly against the NHS's decision to restrict screening for cervical cancer to those in the age group 25 to 29, leaving out women in their early twenties.
According to the doctors, Consultant cytopathologists Amanda Herbert, from Guy's and St. Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust in London, and John Smith, from the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, girls have started having sex at a much earlier age than before, hence the decision, made three years ago, might end up with serious consequences.
"Prevalence of carcinoma in situ has increased in women aged 20-24, which is consistent with more women in recent birth cohorts starting sexual activity in their mid-teens.
"The new policy will add more than 3,000 women with untreated CIN3 to the larger numbers failing to accept their invitations later on" warn the scientists.
Screening is carried out to detect abnormal cell changes in cervical cells, such as CIN3 or carcinoma in situ ; pre-cancerous tumors that are precursors of cervical cancer.
The NHS Cervical Screening Program has reportedly saved thousands of lives, as around 4500 case of cervical cancer are identified per year under this program.
According to the scientists , this program of the NHS will be 'undermined' as the new policy comes along with the statement that screening women under 25 actually does 'more harm than good', due to unnecessary tests and treatments.
Accordingly, most pre-cancerous tumors detected as CIN3 by cervical smears end up resolving by themselves and hence do not need treatment.
Still according to the specialists, this statement has resulted in a sense of complacency to women which is strengthened by the presence of new vaccines said to prevent cervical cancer.
They support their views with a decline by 10 percent in the number of women attending screening for cervical cancer over the last decade.
Yet, Richard Winder, deputy director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programs, says: "The NHS Cervical Screening Program is internationally recognized as one of the best in the world, saving 4,500 lives a year.
"The program's policy to screen women from the age of 25 is based on robust, independent research by scientists at Cancer Research UK.
"The program is always alert to new evidence and information when it becomes available and seriously considers any studies which could further improve the service."
It might be of interest though to note that in 2002, five women aged between 15 and 24 in England died from cervical cancer, and 26 cases were registered, according to the program itself.