Women over 50 are being urged to have regular smear tests after research showed those who skip screening are six times more likely to end up with cervical cancer.
A study by Cancer Research scientists in the UK found women who fail to have smear tests over 50 have a much higher chance of developing the disease compared to women of the same age who have a history of normal screening results.
Researchers also found that women with a screening history and normal screening results between the ages of 50 and 64 have a lower risk of cervical cancer, at least into their 80s.
The researchers examined data taken from 1,341 women aged from 65 to 83 who were diagnosed with cervical cancer between 2007 and 2012, and compared them to 2,646 women without the disease.
Among those women who skipped smear tests between the ages of 50 and 64, 49 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed per 10,000 women at age 65 to 83.
This compared to just eight cases per 10,000 women among those with an adequate screening history and normal results.
Women who had been screened regularly but had an abnormal result between the ages of 50 and 64 had the highest risk of all — 86 cervical cancer cases per 10,000 women at age 65 to 83.
The researchers said the level of protection offered by a good screening history of normal results does fall over time, but can last well into the 80s.
Prof Peter Sasieni, Cancer Research UK’s expert on cervical screening and co-author of the study, who is from Queen Mary University of London, said: “Screening up to the age of 65 greatly reduces the risk of cervical cancer in the following decade, but the protection weakens with time and is substantially weaker 15 years after the last screen.
“With life expectancy increasing, it’s important for countries that stop screening under age 60 to look into their screening programmes to maximise the number of cervical cancer cases prevented and the number of cervical cancers caught at an early stage.”
In Ireland, women between the ages of 25 and 60 are invited for screening by CervicalCheck.
The organisation recently expressed concern that three-in-10 women are still not availing of the free smear test.
It has found that women aged over 50 are less likely to be screened.
It points out that even if a woman is aged over 50, has reached the menopause or has finished having her family, she still needs to have regular smear tests.
While women aged 60 and over are not routinely invited by the national cancer screening service to attend for cervical screening, women in that older age group who have never had a smear test may have a free test with CervicalCheck.
Jessica Kirby, Cancer Research UK’s senior health information manager, said: “These results provide reassurance that there is a real benefit to women over 50 having cervical cancer screening.
“Screening can pick up abnormal cells in the cervix that could develop into cervical cancer if left alone — removing these cells prevents cancer from developing.”
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