Although women are pressurized to have a cervical smear test, a major new official study shows it is ineffective.
Death rates from cervical cancer have not varied in 20 years, despite the increased use of the tests.
These findings are based on monitoring nearly 250,000 women in Bristol, England over 20 years. In 1992, the death rate was similar to that in 1975-79, when continuous screening was introduced.
Equally worrying is the unnecessary intervention that screening can spark. During every screening, around 15,000 women were told they were at risk, more than 5,500 of them were investigated and many were treated "for a disease that would never have troubled them," said researchers.
Apart from the distress and worry, wrong diagnosis also affected the women's chances of getting life insurance, and raised fears that the treatment could ruin their chances of conceiving.
Needless to say, the medical establishment was quick to try and offset any alarms the study might have started. Some wondered if the study was too small to be considered representative, while the government's Cervical Screening Programme said that the risk factors such as smoking, multiple partners and sex at an early age had increased since the 1960s, but the death rate from cervical cancer had fallen-albeit, by only several hundred (Monitor Weekly, June 14, 1995).