The Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging all women to take up invites to have a regular screening test for cervical cancer – it could literally save your life.
With an average of 105 women diagnosed with the disease and 24 women2 dying from cervical cancer each year in Northern Ireland it is important for individuals to accept their invitation for a test.
The proportion of Northern Ireland women having a smear test has increased year on year over the last six years. In 2006, only 71.5% of eligible women had attended for a smear test in the previous five year period but that figure has now risen to 77.3%, at end March 20111.
Dr Tracy Owen, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, PHA, said: “The purpose of the cervical screening programme is to reduce the number of women who develop cervical cancer and the number of women who die from it.
“It is aimed at women who do not have any symptoms of the disease and works by checking 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 now but could go on to develop into cervical cancer if left untreated.”
In Northern Ireland, screening is offered to all women aged 25–64. Women are routinely invited every three years if aged 25–49, and every five years if aged 50–64. Women over 64 years can be screened if their previous three tests did not give a normal result or if they have never been screened.
Dr Owen added: “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. Screening is the best way for women to protect themselves from cervical cancer – 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.”