General practitioner Margaret McCartney says that it is not only citizens who are confusing smear tests with tests for cervical cancer, but many in the medical profession.
Dr McCartney says that media campaigns to "lower the age at which cervical screening starts are understandable" but they would "leave a useless legacy". She says the women in recent high profile cases presented to their doctors with symptoms of cancer and had they undergone cervical screening it would have "delayed referral". She adds that smear tests "do not provide a benefit to women in this age group".
She says that smear tests do not feature in NHS guidelines for young women with possible symptoms of cervical cancer, which recommend "history taking, examination, and, swab or referral to hospital for symptomatic young women" and adds that "cervical screening is the wrong test for a symptomatic woman and may simply delay a referral for more appropriate diagnostic interventions".
Dr McCartney worries that it's not only patients confusing screening with diagnostic tests, but also health journalists and the medical profession.
Dr McCartney concludes that "campaigns may well do more harm than good because they haven't understood the essence of who screening is for". She says the "confusion does not simply lie with the public but within the medical profession".
Article: Doctors and patients confuse cervical screening with diagnostic tests, Margaret McCartney general practitioner, BMJ, DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g3334, published 20 May 2014.