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Cervical screening interval extended to every five years in Wales

cervical screening

The routine cervical screening interval has been extended from three to five years for patients aged 25-49 in Wales.

Cervical Screening Wales (CSW) said the change was made because the human papillomavirus (HPV) test introduced in 2018 is more accurate prediction for cancer than primary cytology testing.

It will only apply to patients who do not test positive for HPV with their next routine cervical screening sample, and not impact treatment or early repeat pathways after a test showed the presence of HPV.

HPV testing looks for the 14 high-risk types of HPV that cause 99.8% of cervical cancers, according to CSW. This test helps to prevent more cancers than cytology testing as it identifies people who are at risk of cervical cancer, so changes can be found and treated earlier.

A small sample of cells is taken from the cervix and tested for HPV. If no high-risk HPV is found, the person has a very low risk of developing cervical cancer within five years, as it takes around 10 to 15 years to develop after an HPV infection.

Those who are identified as having HPV will be followed up, either by being referred for further review at a hospital colposcopy clinic or by invitation for a further test in a year’s time if there were no cell changes present in their sample.

The change puts Wales in line with Scotland, where the interval is also five years. In England and Northern Ireland, people with a cervix aged 25 to 49 are still invited to cervical screening every three years, rising to every five years for those aged 50 to 64.

HPV primary screening has been used in Wales, England and Scotland since 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively. It will be used in Northern Ireland, but the start date is to be confirmed.

Eluned Morgan, minister for health and social services in the Welsh Government, said: ‘I would like to reiterate that the change has been made because the current screening is more accurate than previous testing and, therefore, less frequent screening is required for those who do not have HPV.’ 

The news comes as GPs were advised to continue to prioritise cervical screening while focusing on the Covid booster drive before Christmas.

Click to complete relevant cancer CPD modules on Pulse Learning.

A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title Nursing in Practice.


Patrufini Duffy 12 January, 2022 3:13 pm

Phew – what a relief. Perhaps the most burdensome interaction for primary care. At the cost to surgeries and buying speculums. No conversation had there about that weird process.