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Japan cancer center recommends maximum age of 69 for cervical cancer tests

The National Cancer Center Hospital building. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

TOKYO -- The National Cancer Center Japan announced on July 29 a revised guideline for cervical cancer screening tests which specifies for the first time a maximum age limit of 69 for women to have their cells examined under the microscope for abnormalities that could lead to cancer.

    According to the center, its main reason for setting an age limit to cytological diagnosis is because it has been unable to confirm reductions in mortality rates for those aged 70 and older who have received the screenings, while there are research reports that say cytological diagnosis is effective in reducing the mortality rate of cervical cancer patients up to around the age of 80 if women continue to receive screening tests into their 60s.

    The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will consider whether to apply the revised guideline to public screenings provided by local governments.

    Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix, and about 11,000 women are diagnosed with the disease every year. By age, the number of cases begins to increase in the late 20s and comes to a peak among women in their 40s. As there are no noticeable symptoms in the early stages, it is hard for patients to realize they have cervical cancer. This is why the national government is currently suggesting local governments in Japan provide cytological diagnosis once every two years for women from the age of 20.

    The center analyzes domestic and overseas research and evaluates factors such as the effectiveness of screening tests when formulating the guideline. The center revised the policy, originally compiled in 2009, for the first time in about 10 years. The national government has formulated policies for making suggestions about public screenings to local governments based on the guideline.

    Tomio Nakayama, director of the center's division of screening assessment and management who was involved in creating the guideline, said, "In the case of older adults, conducting tests becomes difficult because of issues such as atrophy in the uterus making it hard to insert instruments into it. And even if doctors find cancer, in many cases it's hard to treat."

    Furthermore, the center for the first time officially added to the revised guideline information about tests to screen for human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cancer. The guideline states HPV tests should be conducted once every five years from the age of 30 until the age of 60, when the risk of contracting the virus then becomes low.

    (Japanese original by Eri Misono, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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