Older women less likely to have smear tests


Women aged 45 and over are less likely to attend for regular smear tests than younger women, the Irish Family Planning Association has said.

Women 25 to 60 years of age are entitled to regular free cervical smear tests as part of CervicalCheck, the National Cervical Screening Programme. But statistics show only 60 per cent of women aged 45 plus attend while overall attendance is 82 per cent.

The smear test checks for cervical cancer, which is caused by persistent infection with high-risk types of the Human Papillomavirus. Some 50 to 80 per cent of sexually active women contract some form of the virus at least once in their life. Only a small proportion develop cervical cancer.

Women aged between 25 and 45 should have a smear test every three years and those over 45 should have one every five years, provided they have not returned abnormal tests in the past.

Every woman who has ever been sexually active requires regular smear tests. Though the immune system can clear the virus over time, the length of time between acquiring the virus and developing cervical cancer varies widely, Dr Caitriona Henchion, medical director of the association said.

She said older women may be less likely to attend because in the past the test was connected with the birth of a baby and once they stopped having children they stopped getting tested. It has also been associated with visits for contraception so women who’ve reached the menopause are less likely to have the test. And younger women with small children are also more likely to be visiting their GP and may be reminded while there to have the test while older women visit their doctor less often.

Speaking today at the launch of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, which runs until January 26th and aims to encourage women to have the free test, Dr Henchion said the association was putting a particular focus on women in the 45-plus age-bracket.

“The biggest risk factor for developing cervical cancer is not having a smear test,” she said.