Women who go for regular smear tests are much more likely to survive cervical cancer than those who fail to attend appointments, new research has found.
Those diagnosed with cancer via cervical screening had 92% chance of complete recovery compared to 66% of those diagnosed after going to the doctor with symptoms.
The researchers at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm looked at the diagnosis of 1,230 women with cervical cancer in Sweden between 1999 and 2001.
The objective of the study, published in the online edition of the British Medical Journal, was to establish whether screening resulted in better outcomes or simply led to earlier diagnosis without postponing the time of death.
They concluded that detection of invasive cancer by cervical screening implies a favourable prognosis compared with cancer being detected on the basis of symptoms.
The percentage of women cured after presenting symptoms within the recommended interval between screenings was 74%, compared to 60% of women with symptoms who were overdue for screening.
Women who had a smear test within the recommended three to five years were 11% more likely to be cured than women who were overdue or who had never had a smear test.
Smear tests, which check for changes in cells that might indicate the presence of cervical cancer, tend to be diagnosed at an earlier stage when it has not spread.
The Swedish cervical screening programme is similar to that in Britain. Women aged between 25 and 30 are invited to attend every three years and women aged 51-60 to attend every five years.
Cervical cancer is caused by certain strains of the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).
Another study published this week found that testing women for the human papillomavirus (HPV) followed by a smear test if they are HPV positive, appears to be the most effective way to screen for cervical cancer.
The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, gave around 26,000 women both smear and HPV tests to determine how best to use HPV testing for cervical screening.
It was found that using HPV testing as the first line screening test, as well as smear testing for women who received a positive HPV result, could improve the performance of and HPV test for cervical screening.
Dr Chris Meijer, study author based at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, said: "From a health-economic perspective cervical screening with a primary, stand-alone HPV test seems to be preferable based on this study.
"But a smear test is still a very useful way to estimate a woman's risk of severe cervical changes and can help maximise the benefits of HPV testing in a cervical screening programme."
Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said in a statement: "This study provides a very useful insight into how HPV testing could work if it were used as a major part of cervical screening.
"The findings help answer some of the questions that would need to be considered should the UK refine its highly effective cervical screening programme.
"The process outlined in this study would need to be fully tested to see if it is as effective as the study results suggest, and to establish some of the practicalities of using this combination of tests in the UK screening setting.
"The UK's cervical screening programme already saves about 5,000 lives every year, but as with most tests, it is not perfect. So we welcome any new evidence which can help make cervical screening even more effective."
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