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More accurate and user-friendly tests for cervical cancer and bowel cancer screening are to be introduced in Wales, in a bid to save more lives.

First published:
11 January 2017
Last updated:

This was published under the 2016 to 2021 administration of the Welsh Government

Currently women are screened for the potential early signs that could lead to cervical cancer through a process known as cytology – the viewing of cells through a microscope in order to identify abnormalities. Minister for Social Services and Public Health, Rebecca Evans, has announced that in future, women will be screened for the main cause of cervical cancer instead – high risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV)

Under the new arrangements, women will continue to receive what is commonly known as a smear test but the sample will then be tested for HR-HPV. 

HR-HPV causes almost 100% of cervical cancers and so testing for HR-HPV will save more lives by determining a woman’s risk earlier. If a woman who is tested does not have HR-HPV, her chances of developing cervical cancer within five years are very small and are lower than a negative result from looking for cell abnormalities. 

A pilot programme reaching around 20% of women will roll out across Wales from April 2017, with full roll-out expected to start in 2018/19.

The Minister said an improved test for bowel cancer screening is also set to be introduced. People can sometimes find the current test – known as guiac faecal occult blood test (gFOBt) – difficult and off-putting. This is because it involves collecting two stool samples on three separate days.

In future, faecal Immunochemical testing (FIT) will be used in Wales instead. FIT is a more accurate test which will mean more cancers are detected. The new test is far easier to carry out at home because only a single stool sample is required, which is likely to increase uptake.

The introduction of FIT within the bowel screening programme is expected to start during 2018/19.

Minister for Social Services and Public Health, Rebecca Evans, said: 

“Population screening helps identify whether apparently healthy people are at higher risk of having a particular condition. It saves lives and improves people’s quality of life through early risk identification. 

“For our screening programmes to reach their full potential, uptake needs to increase and we must continue to invest in more accurate and accessible tests. This is why I am pleased to confirm that we will be implementing better and more user-friendly testing for both cervical cancer screening and bowel cancer screening. 

“The test for HPV is more sensitive and will allow our NHS to identify those requiring treatment more effectively. There will be more appropriate referrals to healthcare services, resulting in quicker treatment, and women will be discharged back to routine screening more quickly, avoiding lengthy periods of annual surveillance.

“The new test for bowel cancer screening is far easier to carry out at home, with pilots showing significant increases in uptake, including among hard-to-reach groups.”