The Dutch cervical cancer screening programme focuses on individuals between the ages of 30 and 60. They are invited five times to participate: at the age of 30, 35, 40, 50 and 60. People who are more at risk of cervical cancer, for example due to a previous HPV infection or non-participation, receive also an invitation at 45, 55 or 65. Thanks to the screening programme, cervical cancer precursors can be detected early. By treating at this precancerous stage, cervical cancer can be prevented.
Cervical cancer is a malignant (invasive) abnormality of the mucous membrane on the upper and lower portions of the cervix. The malignancy arises from a prolonged precancerous stage, which involves an abnormality in the cells of the surface tissue. If this precancerous stage remains untreated, cervical cancer may develop.
Cervical cancer is mostly caused by a persistent infection with a high-risk type of the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, which infects about 80% of all people at some time in their lives. Usually, the infection is cleared successfully by the body's immune system.
Sometimes, however, the infection becomes persistent and can lead to abnormalities in cells of the infected tissue. The abnormal cells can develop into (often asymptomatic) cervical cancer over a period of 10 to 15 years.
Each year, around 900 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Most cases were in the 30–60 age range. Approximately 200 persons each year die from cervical cancer.
The aim of the cervical cancer screening programme is to reduce cervical cancer mortality by detecting precancerous lesions early on in order to prevent the development of cervical cancer. It is part of a national prevention programme. This national population screening programme was initiated by the Dutch government and consists of three cancer and five prenatal and neonatal screening programmes.