U-turn on cervical cancer tests for young women (UK)

Independent Online March 8, 2009

Cancer tests that could save the lives of scores of young women are set to return, five years after they were cut amid controversy, health chiefs confirmed yesterday. Ministers are considering the return of cervical cancer screening for women under 25, after having restricted the tests to older women. The Government raised the age for routine smear tests from 20 to 25 in 2004, after a study by Cancer Research UK, Britain’s largest cancer charity, found that the incidence of the disease in teenage girls was very rare. It claimed the risk to women under 25 was so low that screening might actually do more harm than good. Now ministers have agreed to rethink the decision after campaigners highlighted a series of tragedies since the move. Latest figures reveal that cervical cancer killed 27 women aged under 25 in England and Wales between 2002 and 2006 – 15 of them since 2004.

…Details of the rethink were revealed as it emerged that hundreds of 12- and 13-year-old girls have reported debilitating side-effects after receiving the new vaccination against cervical cancer. Doctors have confirmed that almost 1,300 British schoolgirls suffered reactions, from alleged paralysis to facial bloating, fainting, skin discoloration and rashes after taking part in a mass vaccination programme launched last year. The DoH claimed the side-effects were within the range expected for a programme that has so far seen half a million schoolgirls vaccinated. It also insisted that the Cervarix vaccine had met “the rigorous safety and efficacy standards required for licensing in Europe and elsewhere”. But Jackie Fletcher, of the campaign group Justice Awareness and Basic Support (Jabs), said parents had not been given enough information on the vaccine. “We are not necessarily against this programme, but it has not been explained properly,” she said. “Parents tell us they were never warned of any potential dangers, but their children have suffered side-effects.”