Regular screening of women at low risk of developing cervical cancer is a waste of money and resources, researchers believe.
Very few women aged over 50 years develop cancer if they have a history of regular smear tests with normal results, yet, under current medical guidelines they continue to be screened.
A study team from University College London has reckoned that early withdrawal of women at low risk from the regular screening programme could create savings of 25 per cent.
On the downside, there would be an estimated increase of two cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 women each year, which would otherwise have been detected by early screening (BMJ, 1999; 318: 356-61).
l Cervical smears which show a mild to moderate inclination towards cancer are more likely to revert to normal than progress to cancer.
Despite these new findings, women whose smear readings are classed as mildly dysplastic are usually referred for immediate colposcopy and biopsy.
Researchers from University of Toronto recommend a less invasive approach, and they suggest that women with mild dysplastic readings should be screened again in six months (J Nat Cancer Institute, 1999; 91: 252-8).