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Bashing GPs over their abilities to spot cervical cancer is just a smokescreen

So the Government has ruled that the age at which cervical screening starts should stay at 25 in England but believes that 'young women with gynaecological symptoms are not always being given the right advice from their GPs' ('GPs reject cervical cancer blame', pulsetoday.co.uk/news).

The inference here is that GPs could do better. This looks like the usual GP bashing that the current Government has gone in for in recent years. In fact the issue was raised by Professor Henry Kitchener, chair of the Advisory Committee on Cervical Cancer Screening, who questioned whether GPs were examining women with symptoms.

It's true that many smear abnormalities, but not all, in women aged 20 to 25 are mild and regress with time - and can lead to unnecessary investigation and treatment.

It is a balance of overall population risks and benefits. In Wales we screen from age 20 and one has only to see one young patient with an invasive cervical cancer to be persuaded.

What is very wrong is the suggestion that GPs may be at fault. Most young women presenting with irregular vaginal bleeding or vaginal discharge will have common causes for their symptoms, such as infection, cervical ectopy, or breakthrough bleeding on the Pill.

Very few symptomatic young women will have invasive cancer of the cervix. If we want to pick up cervical pre-cancer in this asymptomatic group, then we have to do cervical smears.

Exhorting GPs to try harder and do better is a smokescreen. It does not help the debate or young women - and it is extremely irritating to hard working GPs. Stop it.

From Dr David Johnson, Brecon GP, gynaecologist and lead colposcopist

The age at which cervical screening starts remains 25 in England

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