Each year in Northern Ireland around 90 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed and 20 to 30 women will die from the disease. The PHA has responsibility for the Northern Ireland Cervical Screening Programme and is taking this opportunity to emphasise the importance of going for a screening test, when invited.
In July 2010, the Chief Medical Officer announced policy changes to cervical cancer screening. These changes come into effect this month and mean that the age at which cervical screening is first offered to women will increase from age 20 to 25 and women aged under 50 will now be screened every three years. The PHA is launching its revised programme information leaflets for women to take account of these changes. The leaflets are designed to provide women with information on the prevalence of cervical cancer, the purpose of the screening test and how it is carried out. They aim to encourage women to approach their invite to attend for cervical screening in a positive way.
Dr Tracy Owen, Consultant in Public Health Medicine for the PHA said: “A screening test is not a test for diagnosing cervical cancer. It is a test to check the health of the cervix. Regular screening tests are the best way of detecting changes in the cells of the cervix that could go on to develop into cervical cancer if left untreated.
Figures for 2009-2010 show that younger women are much less likely to attend for cervical screening. While (80%) of women aged 40-44 years have had a screening test in the last 5 years, only 70% Of women aged 25-29 have had one. The screening programme plays a vital role in saving lives, as it is estimated that in a well screened population, four out of five cervical cancers can be prevented.
Dr Owen continued; “This is one of the few cancers that is preventable as pre-cancerous cell changes can be picked up before they have a chance to develop. If cell changes are left undetected and untreated they could go on to develop into cervical cancer which is why it is so important for women to get screened when they are invited to do so – it could literally save their life. I would also like to reassure women aged under 25 that cervical cancer is very rare in young women and screening in this age group is more likely to do harm than good. However, women of any age who are concerned about symptoms such as abnormal bleeding or pain or discomfort in the lower pelvis should seek advice from their GP.”
For further information or to download a new cervical cancer screening leaflet – visit www.cancerscreening.hscni.net
Notes to the editor
Cervical Cancer Awareness Week runs during 23-29 January 2011.
By January 2011, the age at which cervical screening is first offered to women will increase from age 20 to 25.
In addition, the screening interval will be reduced; with women aged 25-49 being offered screening every 3 years and those aged 50 to 64 every 5 years.
Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.