Abnormal smear test results for one in six women last year


ONE IN six women screened last year for cervical cancer returned abnormal smear tests, according to the latest report from CervicalCheck.

Over 84 per cent of smear tests were negative or normal, almost 14 per cent showed low-grade abnormalities and 1.7 per cent showed high-grade abnormalities, the report says. The figure for low-grade abnormalities was higher than expected and requires further deliberation, according to CervicalCheck.

The programme aims to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer by detecting changes in the cells of the cervix before they become cancerous. In the four years since it was launched in September 2008, almost 1.3 million smear tests were processed and more than 830,000 women have had at least one free smear test.

In the year up to September 2011, more than 338,670 free smear tests were carried out. Some 104 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Participation in the programme averages over 60 per cent and is highest among young adult women. CervicalCheck says the low proportion of women over 50 attending for smear tests is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

“The programme’s aim to achieve 80 per cent coverage of the eligible population by the end of the second three-year screening round in 2014 remains a challenging target,” said Majella Byrne, acting director of the National Cancer Screening Service.

Ms Byrne said a single smear test was of little benefit to a woman: regular tests at recommended intervals were necessary to prevent cervical cancer.

Last week, Minister for Health James Reilly said a national bowel cancer screening programme would begin in the coming months.Initially, it will offer free screening to men and women aged 55-74 every two years.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Journal reports today that indoor tanning increases the risk of skin cancer, particularly among those exposed before the age of 25.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco estimate that indoor tanning may account for more than 170,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in the US alone.

Non-melanoma skin cancer is not as lethal as melanoma but the number of people affected has increased dramatically over the last few decades.

The risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma was 67 per cent higher among people who had used indoor tanning, while the risk was elevated by 29 per cent for basal cell carcinoma.

A ban on sunbeds for under-18s was introduced in Northern Ireland last May. Similar legislation is due to be enacted in the Republic.