A decided lack of standards in the cervical cancer screening programme is responsible for many false diagnoses of cancer, announced the National Audit Office.
In its report Cervical and Breast Screening in England, the audit office found a wide disparity in interpretations of findings and a lack of benchmarks against which to compare results. The audit showed in some areas of England as many as 18 per cent of smears were classified as abnormal, compared to 3 per cent in other areas. These differences were solely due to differences in interpretation of results, said the report.
Doctors also differed widely in how to treat abnormalities. The report stressed that some cases of mild abnormalities would resolve themselves with no intervention, while some doctors would nevertheless opt for treatment like cervical conization, which can cause permanent infertility.
In Liverpool, all abnormal smears were reported severely abnormal; in three of five districts a large number of types of smears were erroneously classified as abnormal.
In one out of six districts there was no fail safe system to ensure that women with abnormal smears were followed up, as is required.