Women urged to have free smear test to prevent cervical cancer

Awareness campaign launched to mark European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week

Women aged between 25 and 60 have been urged to go for free smear tests to prevent cervical cancer, as European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is marked this week.

The Irish Family Planning Association launched its Pearls of Wisdom campaign yesterday to highlight the cancer prevention week. It has distributed 20,000 Pearl of Wisdom pins and information leaflets to pharmacists, occupational health nurses and other health promotion networks. Each year, about 300 women are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 90 women die from the disease annually.

The association’s medical director, Dr Caitríona Henchion, said cervical cancer could be prevented through regular smear tests and women could get these free tests from GPs or family planning clinics through the national CervicalCheck programme.

“Cervical cancer takes a long time to develop and often has no symptoms, but the good news is that it can be prevented. A smear test does this by ensuring that any abnormalities in the cervix are detected and treated early,” she said. “Having a smear test has never been easier. It only takes a few minutes, it’s free and it really could save your life.”


She said the association’s review of the cervical screening programme at its Dublin city centre clinic from 2008 to 2012 found that women over 45 were less likely to go for smear tests than women under 45.

“Smear tests are not just for younger women but for all women aged 25 to 60,” Dr Henchion said. “Although our study found that abnormal results were less common in women aged 45 to 60, a significant number were still detected. This shows that as women age they are still at risk of developing cervical cancer, and should continue to go for regular smear tests until the age of 60.”

Dr Philip Davies, director general of the European Cervical Cancer Association, said Ireland's CervicalCheck programme was one of the best cervical screening programmes in the world.

“Cervical cancer is the most preventable form of cancer. However, almost 30,000 European women die from this disease every year because they do not have access to high-quality cervical screening programmes,” he said.

The CervicalCheck programme has provided more than 1.65 million free smear tests since it was launched in September 2008. Some 99 per cent of cervical cancer cases are caused by persistent infection of certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection. A HPV school vaccination programme was introduced in Ireland in 2010in a bid to tackle the virus.


For more information see cervicalcheck.ie.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times