Objective: To examine the incidence of invasive cervical cancer per 100,000 women years at risk and relative risk according to screening history among eligible women aged 25-69 in Southampton and South West Hampshire during the three years after completion of the first round of comprehensive screening.
Results: There was a significantly higher incidence of invasive cervical cancer in women who had not been screened during the preceding 0.5-5.5 years than in those who had been screened (relative risk (RR) 2.6; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.6 to 4.3). Among the latter group of women (with interval cancers) there was a significantly higher incidence in those with a long interval of 3.5-5.5 years since their most recent smear than in those with a short interval of 0.5-3.5 years (RR 2.2; 95% CI 1.3 to 3.8). Among women with non-interval cancers, there was a significantly higher incidence among those who had no cytology record than among those who had been screened but were overdue for a smear (RR 3.0; 95% CI 1.2 to 7.3). When screen detected cancers were excluded from the figures the relative risks for all the comparative groups described above were greater, though the 95% confidence limits were wider because the numbers were smaller. The most pronounced difference in incidence was between symptomatic cancers in women with a short screening interval (5.8 per 100,000 women years at risk) and in women with no cytology record (71.3 per 100,000 years at risk). Most cancers were interval cancers (76%) because of the high screening coverage: 89.2% of eligible women aged 25-69 had been screened during the preceding 0.5-5.5 years. The overall incidence per 100000 women years at risk approached that of interval cancers, and was nearer to that observed in the short than the long interval because 74.7% of women had been screened within 3.5 years.
Conclusion: The results confirm the effectiveness of screening but suggest that a five year screening interval may be too long, at least during the early rounds of screening.