Millions of women could be spared the ordeal of having smear tests after the age of 55, a major study suggests.
At the moment British women are invited for regular cervical screening between the ages of 25 and 64.
But research indicates that a sensitive new test being brought in by the NHS could make testing past the age of 55 unnecessary.
Women who had a negative test at age 55 had only a 0.05 per cent chance of developing cervical cancer in later life, results published in The Lancet Oncology medical journal concluded.
The new ‘sensitive’ cervical cancer screening could save millions of British women from undergoing tests after their 55th birthday (file photo)
The study, led by McGill University in Canada, used data from 200,000 women to calculate lifetime risk of cervical cancer.
British officials confirmed that scientists on the Government’s screening committee, which advises the NHS, would look at the findings.
Experts, however, stressed that more research is needed – and said women over 55 should continue to attend their screening appointments.
Robert Music, of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: ‘Regardless of your age, please don’t ignore your invitation when it comes through.’
At the moment women are invited for cervical cancer screening 12 times between the ages of 25 and 64: Every three years until age 50 and then every five years.
The frequency of the tests is thought to be contributing to falling uptake, with nearly a third of women – 1.2million last year alone – neglecting to take part.
The study, led by McGill University in Canada, used data from 200,000 women to calculate lifetime risk of cervical cancer (file photo)
Screening takes place until retirement because cervical cancer commonly appears in old age.
But the McGill scientists found screening could be stopped earlier thanks to the rollout of a new way of testing for HPV – the virus which causes 95 per cent of cases of cervical cancer – which means doctors can be more confident women are at low risk.
In the past a smear test involved testing for abnormalities in the cells on the cervix, known as ‘cytology screening’.
But the test is being changed to test first for the HPV virus, and then following up if the virus is present.
By December 2019 all women in England will be able to have the test.
Study leader Dr Talia Malagon said: ‘For countries that use HPV testing as part of their screening, it might be possible to stop screening earlier than we are currently doing, provided women have a negative HPV test.’
Around 1,000 British women die with cervical cancer every year.
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