Changes to cervical screening come into force.
Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood has urged women to take up their invitation for cervical screening as changes to the programme come into force.
From June 6, the age range for routine cervical screening will be changing to offer women aged 25 to 64 screening every three or five years.
The changes are designed to improve the cervical screening programme to detect more cases of women who may develop cervical cancer. They follow recommendations made by the UK National Screening Committee that screening women under the age of 25 is not effective at preventing cervical cancer and that women over the age of 60 remain at risk of developing cervical cancer.
Dr Calderwood said:
"Women are invited to attend for regular cervical screening and it is so important that women take up their invitation.
"Cervical screening - 'the smear test' - is an effective method of significantly reducing cases of and deaths from cervical cancer, and in detecting cancer as early as possible. It saves around 5,000 lives in the UK every year and treatment prevents eight out of 10 cervical cancers from developing.
"The age range and frequency of screening is changing following recommendations made by the UK National Screening Committee and a report from the Scottish Expert Review Group. These changes bring Scotland into line with current practice in the other UK nations.
"Evidence has shown that screening between these ages is most effective in picking up women with changes in their cervix which may develop into cancer if left untreated.
"Treatment provided early is very straightforward and is successful in preventing cancer developing. The previous age range was 20- 60 years, however we now know that cervical screening in young women is more likely to pick up normal cell changes which may result in unnecessary treatment while not changing the number of cases of cancer. Meanwhile, older women remain at risk of cervical cancer beyond the age of 60 when screening previously stopped.
"Women between 20 to 24 who have already been invited to screening will continue to be invited, with the new age range coming into effect for women turning 20 on or after June 6."
Earlier this year the Scottish Government announced a £100 million Cancer Strategy to tackle cancer by improving prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and after care. This includes £5 million to target reducing inequalities in screening uptake.
Figures from March 31, 2015 show that 70.4% of eligible women were screened in the previous three and a half years. This is 0.3 percentage points lower than the March 31, 2014 figure when 70.7% of eligible women were screened.
Robert Music, Chief Executive, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said:
"We are fortunate to have an excellent cervical screening programme in Scotland. Screening saves lives, yet the number of women attending this test in Scotland is falling year on year and in 2014/15 only 70.4% of eligible women took up their invitation.
"This downward trend is extremely concerning as cervical cancer is one of the only cancers that can be prevented. We urge all women aged 25-64 to join the cervical screening programme when invited. It is a five minute test that could quite simply save a life."
Dr Jennifer Darnborough, Cervical Screening Co-ordinator, NHS Lanarkshire said:
"Attending for cervical screening every time you are invited is the best way you can protect yourself against cervical cancer. If you are not sure about attending or are worried about the test, have a chat with your GP or practice nurse who can tell you all about it and what is involved."
For more information on cervical cancer visit: www.getcheckedearly.org
A review of data has shown that screening women aged 20 to 24 has had little or no impact on rates of invasive cervical cancer in women up to the age of 30. Since the age of first invitation to screening was changed in England in 2003, there has been no increase in cervical cancer mortality in women aged 20 to 24.
If a woman has symptoms which could be suspicious of cancer, (like unusual and/or unpleasant vaginal discharge or bleeding, including bleeding after sex or between periods and/or discomfort or pain during sex) she should discuss these with a health care professional as soon as possible.
In September 2008 a national programme was launched in Scotland to vaccinate all girls between the ages of 12-13 against human papillomavirus (HPV). The vaccine helps protect against certain strains of HPV which can cause cervical cancer.
It is now known that almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV. The HPV vaccination programme, which has been running since September 2008, is designed to protect against high risk types of HPV which cause around 70% of cases of cervical cancer. Uptake of the vaccine is high, with more than 90% of girls aged 20 in 2015 being vaccinated.
Women aged between 25 and 49 will be invited for screening every three years, while those between 50 and 64 will be invited for screening every five years.