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Cervical cancers rise in young women

07 Nov 2011

The incidence of cervical cancer in women in their 20s has risen by more than 40 per cent between 1992 and 2006 in England, despite the overall incidence of cervical cancer dropping by 30 per cent, according to research presented at the National Cancer Research Institute’s (NCRI) annual conference in Liverpool which started yesterday (Sunday).

The University of Manchester research – funded by Cancer Research UK – looked at overall trends in cervical cancer incidence in women aged between 20 and 79 years from 1982 to 2006.

The findings show that – after initially dropping following the introduction of cervical screening in England – the number of women aged between 20 and 29 diagnosed with cervical cancer is now rising in most areas of the country. Yet, for all other age groups, the number of women developing the disease has fallen over the same period.

Between 1992 and 1996 around five women aged 20-29 years in every 100,000 (963 cases, about 192 per year) were diagnosed with cervical cancer. This increased to about six per 100,000 between 2002 and 2006 (988 cases, about 197 per year).

Most women in the study would have been first invited for screening from the age of 20 and after 2003 women were invited from the age of 25*.

By comparison, in women aged 50-79 years, the incidence dropped from about 17 per 100,000 (6,263 cases) between 1992 and 1996 to just over 10 per 100,000 (4,089 cases) during 2002 and 2006.

And the latest figures for 2007 and 2008 show that the rising trend for  20 to 29 year olds is continuing with about nine women in every 100,000 (606 cases, 303 per year) now developing cervical cancer.

Cervical screening detects early changes in the cervix which can be treated before they progress into cancer.

Dr Robert Alston, study author and Cancer Research UK Scientist from the University’s School of Cancer and Enabling Sciences, said: “Our results show that although numbers getting cervical cancer are dropping in the immediate years after cervical screening began, the numbers of women in their 20s now developing the disease have been rising since the early 90s.”

Smoking is a known risk factor for cervical cancer as chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage cells in the cervix making them less able to fight off infections and protect against the disease developing.

Dr Alston added: “Crucially our findings demonstrate the importance of the HPV vaccination programme and for as many women over 25 as possible to go for cervical screening.”

Hazel Nunn, head of evidence and health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “These figures show just how crucial it is for all 12-13 year-old girls to have the HPV vaccination. Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a very common infection and the major cause of cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine protects against two strains of the infection and is most effective when given to women before they are exposed to the virus.

“The vaccine is available for no cost to all 12-13-year-old girls and is usually given at school. Older women can pay to have the vaccine if they wish.

“Whatever your age, if you have any bleeding between periods, during sex or after the menopause, you should go to your GP.”


Notes for editors

To view the conference abstract click here

Increasing rates of cervical cancer in young women in England: an analysis of national data 1982–2006. Foley, Alston, Birch et al. British Journal of Cancer (2011) 105, 177–184. doi:10.1038/bjc.2011.196

*In October 2003 the age that women are first invited to cervical screening was changed to 25. This is because the available evidence shows that cervical screening in women aged 20-24 is much less effective in preventing cancer. Cervical screening detects a precancerous condition so that women who test positive and are treated do not appear in incidence figures.

For more information about cervical cancer visit

About the NCRI Cancer Conference:

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference is the UK’s major forum for showcasing the best British and international cancer research. The Conference offers unique opportunities for networking and sharing knowledge by bringing together world leading experts from all cancer research disciplines. The seventh annual NCRI Cancer Conference is taking place from the 6-9 November 2011 at the BT Convention Centre in Liverpool. For more information visit

About the NCRI:

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) was established in April 2001. It is a UK-wide partnership between the government, charity and industry which promotes co-operation in cancer research among the 22 member organisations for the benefit of patients, the public and the scientific community.  For more information visit

NCRI members are: the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI); Association for International Cancer Research; Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Breakthrough Breast Cancer; Breast Cancer Campaign; Cancer Research UK; CHILDREN with CANCER UK, Department of Health; Economic and Social Research Council; Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research; Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Macmillan Cancer Support; Marie Curie Cancer Care; Medical Research Council; Northern Ireland Health and Social Care (Research & Development Office); Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation; Scottish Government Health Directorates (Chief Scientist Office); Tenovus; The Prostate Cancer Charity; Welsh Government (National Institute for Social Care and Health Research); The Wellcome Trust; and Yorkshire Cancer Research.

About Cancer Research UK:

  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research
  • The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.  This work is funded entirely by the public.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last forty years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.

Media enquiries to:

Laura Dibb
NCRI Press Office 

Tel: 0203 469 8051/8300

Or Aeron Haworth
Media Relations
Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences
The University of Manchester

Tel: 0161 275 8383
Mob: 07717 881563