Background: The objective of cervical cancer screening is to lower the incidence and mortality rates of the disease. This study evaluates the effectiveness of cervical screening and the UICC and EC screening recommendations based on the Nordic screening experience.
Methods: The study analyzes the features of the Icelandic and the Nordic screening programs and the observed trends in the incidence and mortality rates in these countries through 1995.
Results: Organized screening started in all the Nordic countries soon after 1960 and had nation-wide coverage in all these countries, except in Denmark (45% coverage in 1991), by around 1973 but in Norway screening was only spontaneous up to late in 1994. Up to 1985 the target age group and screening interval were most intensive in Iceland, followed by Finland, Sweden and Denmark. All countries except Finland lowered the lower age limit and intensified the screening intervals after 1985. Through the period 1986-1995 the reduction in both the mortality and the incidence rates was greatest in Iceland (mortality: 76% and incidence: 67%) and Finland (73% and 75%, respectively), intermediate in Sweden (60% and 55%, respectively) and Denmark (55% and 54%, respectively), and lowest in Norway (43% and 34%, respectively). The age-specific incidence in the 20-29 age group has been increasing since 1971 in all the Nordic countries, except in Finland, where the yearly registered age-specific incidence has been increasing in the targeted 30-54 age group since 1991. In Iceland screening has greatly affected the rate of all stages of squamous cell carcinoma, but not the rate of adeno- and adenosquamous carcinomas. In fact the rate of adenocarcinoma has been increasing.
Conclusions: Organized screening is more effective than spontaneous screening in reducing the risk of cervical cancer. Although differences in environmental, biological and ethnic factors may call for different screening strategies, screening should preferably start soon after age 20 with a screening interval of 2-3 years.