Women over 65 most prone to cervical cancer

Regular screenings for the disease fall drastically with age

Published: Wednesday 17 June 2015

Cervical cancer can prove to be more fatal to women over 65, says a new study. Scientists involved in the research say that increased age at the time of diagnosis may lead to higher mortality. This is contrary to the popular perception that cervical cancer is a young woman’s disease.

According to the report, published in the British Medical Journal, mortality data for the United Kingdom from 2010-12 show only seven deaths a year from cervical cancer in women younger than 25, but 449 deaths in women older than 65. It also found that women between 50 and 64 who had been regularly tested had a relatively low risk of getting the disease in the next 20 years. “Regular screenings have the potential to catch the disease early and reduce the number of victims of cervical cancer dramatically,” says Susan Sherman, lead author and senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University, England. She argues that the age for cervical screening should be raised to 70; however, she emphasises that cervical cancer continues to affect women of all ages, although it is the most common cancer among women under 35.

The report cites the example of England, where the proportion of women being screened for the cancer in 2013 dropped with age in the past five years. And these numbers are set to fall further, the study claims. “We need to change the perception of cervical cancer so that it is thought of just like breast and bowel cancer—affecting women well into old age,” Sherman notes, adding that health campaigns are needed to increase awareness of risk among older women.
According to a BBC report, cervical screening is estimated to save 4,500 lives in England each year. But the country’s cervical screening programme under the National Health Service stops sending invitations for screening after a woman reaches 65. “The natural history of cervical cancer means that it is unlikely that women of 65 and over who have been regularly screened and discharged from the programme will go on to develop the disease. However, if a woman has any concerns about her cervical health, we suggest that she contacts her general practitioner at the earliest opportunity,” Julietta Patnick, director of NHS cancer screening programmes, told BBC.

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