England- -- Cervical cancer screening should continue for women older than 50 -- even if they've had several negative test results -- because they have a similar level of risk as younger women, European researchers contend.
Previous studies have suggested there's little benefit in repeating smear tests in women 60 to 65 years old whose previous tests have been normal, and some experts have suggested that the age limit for the screening test should be lowered to 50.
But the new study, published online in BMJ, challenges that view.
Researchers analyzed the cervical cancer registry in The Netherlands and identified 219,000 women ages 45 to 54 and 445,000 women ages 30 to 44 who'd had three consecutive negative smear tests. During a follow-up period of 10 years, the incidence of cervical cancer was 41 per 100,000 among the younger women and 36 per 100,000 among the older women.
This indicates, the researchers said, that among women who've had regular screenings with normal results, age does not affect the risk of developing cervical cancer. Therefore, it would not be consistent to stop screening older women without relaxing the screening policy for younger women with similar screening histories, they said.
Bjorn Strander, director of cervical cancer screening at Sahlgren's University Hospital in Sweden, wrote in an accompanying editorial that new findings about invasive cancer in age groups above screening cutoff points need to be closely monitored, and experts should be ready to adjust screening ages as more information becomes available.
Modern computer technology makes it possible to issue personalized screening invitations to individuals, he noted. That would enable a shift of resources away from women who would not benefit from additional cervical cancer screening to those who would benefit, Strander said.