Purpose of review
The National Health Service Cervical Screening Programme (NHSCSP) has played a major role in reducing the mortality from cervical cancer in England and Wales. However, the current system has numerous shortcomings and it is likely that its success has reached a plateau. In light of this, significant changes have recently been made to the programme. These alterations, as well as further potential developments, are considered here.
The aim of any change to the programme is to improve its sensitivity and specificity whilst reducing patient morbidity and maintaining cost-effectiveness. Alterations to NHSCSP guidelines include the replacement of the Papanicolau smear with liquid-based cytology, the referral for colposcopy of women with a single dyskaryotic cytology result and the commencement of screening at the later age of 25. These changes appear to be beneficial overall. The role of newer technologies in the programme is being clarified and it is likely that human papillomavirus testing will be incorporated in the near future. Progress is being made in the field of human papillomavirus vaccines, particularly prophylactic, which may go on to have the most profound impact on the incidence of cervical cancer. The disease is now largely a burden of the developing world, where the use of these technologies is considered.
Changes currently being instituted in the NHSCSP should go some way towards improving the service. The importance of increasing coverage rates, reducing patient waiting times and the associated anxiety must not be overlooked.