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BAC Statement

Cervical screening has been shown to save lives

The NHS Cervical screening programme (CSP) has undergone many changes in recent years, and each one is designed to make the programme more robust and better able to detect often subtle pre-cancerous changes that, if undetected and untreated, can, in some cases, develop into a cervical cancer.

The CSP audits cases of cervical cancer, to learn any lessons it can to improve the programme. Every case of potentially preventable cervical cancer is a tragedy for that individual woman and her family. It is also a tragedy for the CSP itself. A recent Coroner’s inquest into a death from cervical cancer has highlighted errors, including pathology reporting, which contributed to her death. There were several opportunities to diagnose the cancer at an earlier stage, but sadly they were missed.

Despite the NHS CSP being acknowledged as the most organised and one of, if not the, longest running cervical screening programmes in the world, mistakes can happen.

These mistakes are not deliberate, and are devastating not only for the woman concerned but all those who work in the CSP. We try to learn from every occasion when the programme could have worked better, to try and ensure it will not happen again. Primary HPV testing is now being offered across the whole of the mainland of the UK, and is a more sensitive test than we have previously had. The impact of immunisation against the HPV virus that leads to most, if not all, cervical cancer is now well established and is already leading to significant decreases in the pre-cancerous changes. This will help reduce yet further the number of cervical cancer cases.

Any screening programme depends on regular screening, and women should take up the offer, when they receive it, of a cervical screening test. If they develop symptoms, such as unexpected bleeding or pain after intercourse, then they should consult their GP. News items like this sad case may shake women’s confidence in the effectiveness of cervical screening.

Despite whatever limitations the CSP may have, it does work and it does save lives.