Medical Misogyny? Mariella Frostrup Advocates for Older Women’s Smear Tests

Medical Misogyny? Mariella Frostrup Advocates for Older Women’s Smear Tests

Debating Smear Test Age Limits: A Perspective on Cervical Cancer Screening

Mariella Frostrup’s Advocacy:

Last week, Mariella Frostrup raised concerns about the age limits of the NHS cervical screening programme, criticizing its alleged ageist approach.

The current policy offers screening to women between the ages of 25 and 64.

Frostrup, at 61, labeled the policy as ‘outdated’ and ‘ageist,’ advocating for the inclusion of women aged 65 and over.

Her stance has sparked a debate on the effectiveness and inclusivity of the existing screening program.

Counterargument: Focus on Program Improvement:

As a GP with expertise in women’s health and an ambassador for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Dr. Philippa Kaye disagrees with Frostrup’s perspective.

Dr. Kaye emphasizes the need to concentrate efforts on enhancing the current screening program.

Her viewpoint centers on maximizing the effectiveness of the existing protocol, ensuring wider participation, and promoting the uptake of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine among younger age groups.

Understanding Smear Tests and Cervical Cancer:

The NHS screening program invites women aged 25 to 49 for tests every three years, those aged 50 to 64 every five years, and women over 65 if they haven’t been screened since 50 or have had prior abnormal results.

HPV, a common virus transmitted during sex, is a leading cause of cervical cancer.

Impact of HPV Vaccination:

Since 2008, HPV vaccination for 12 and 13-year-olds has significantly contributed to reducing the risk of cervical cancer.

Data suggests an 87% risk reduction, and rates of the disease have already decreased by 25% since the early 1990s.

Age Considerations in Cervical Cancer Screening:

This explains the rationale behind age-specific screening, with invitations starting at 25 due to the likelihood of abnormalities resolving naturally in younger women.

The screening stops at 64 because the risk diminishes, and persistent HPV infections take years to develop into cervical cancer.

Obstetrician Adeola Olaitan and expert Theresa Freeman-Wang emphasize the challenges and potential harms of screening older women, including discomfort and the risk of over-treatment.

Balancing Benefits and Harms:

Dr. Freeman-Wang stresses the importance of balancing benefits and potential harms, expressing concern about over-treating older women and causing unnecessary invasive procedures.

This suggests that more evidence is needed to assess whether extending the screening limit to women over 65 would be beneficial.

Addressing Cases Post-65:

It acknowledges cases of cervical cancer diagnosis after 65, highlighting potential reasons such as undetected HPV infections, rising divorce rates, and individuals not attending final screenings.

While calling for more research on the risk and benefits for those over 64.

Prioritizing Program Enhancement:

In conclusion, there is an advocacy for prioritizing the improvement of the existing screening program and promoting awareness, regular screenings, and HPV vaccination.

The focus is on protecting women across all age groups for years to come.

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