Each year around 90 women in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 30 women die from the disease. During Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January 2012) the Public Health Agency (PHA) is calling on all women to attend for cervical screening when invited, as it could literally save lives. It is estimated that in a well screened population, four out of five cervical cancers can be prevented.
Dr Tracy Owen, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, PHA said: “The best way of significantly reducing your risk of developing cervical cancer is to attend for regular smear tests when invited. I would strongly encourage all women, particularly those who have just been invited for screening for the first time, to see it as a positive step.”
The screening programme is offered to women aged 25-49 every three years, and 50-64 year olds every five years. Figures for 2010–2011 show that younger women are much less likely to attend for cervical screening. While 81% of women aged 40–44 years in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust area have had a screening test in the last five years, only 71% of women aged 25–29 have had one.
“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 early changes in the cells of the cervix that don’t cause any symptoms and could go on to develop into cervical cancer if left untreated.”
Dr Owen continued: “This is one of the few cancers that is preventable so it is important for women to get screened when they are invited to do so – it could literally save their life. The test only takes a few minutes and can be carried out by a female doctor or nurse if you prefer. 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.”
More information about the cervical cancer screening programme is available on www.cancerscreening.hscni.net
Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.