Until 2003, the NHS had been inviting women for testing at age 20. But research into early screening suggested a negative effect and so the age for screening was raised to 25.

Some experts say that although women in their early 20s may have detectable changes in their cells, these are mostly natural and clear up on their own. Treating this can lead to complications in later life, such as difficulties carrying a baby in the womb during pregnancy.

Liz Davies, MSI Director of UK and Europe, said: "The recent high profile case of Jade Goody, who is battling the most virulent form of cervical cancer at just age 27 shows that this disease, whilst extremely rare among women under 30 is nevertheless a potential threat. Bringing screening for English women into line with the rest of the UK, can only prove to be a beneficial move."

She also said the recent introduction of a cervical cancer vaccination programme - a jab against the HPV viruses linked to the cancer - makes the case for lowering the screening age even more important.

"The vaccination only protects against certain forms of the HPV virus, which is the major cause of cervical cancer. Our fear is that young girls who are being vaccinated now may think they are completely protected, which simply is not the case. It makes sense to start them thinking about their cervical health as early as possible, and universal screening from the age of 20 is a key strategy for achieving that."