The Public Health Agency has urged women not to ignore their cervical screening tests – as new figures show it can ‘literally save your life.’
The PHA made the plea as January 22 marked the launch of Cervical Cancer Prevention week.
Dr Tracy Owen, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the PHA, said: “Data from 2010-2014 show that, on average, 96 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 23 women die from the disease each year in Northern Ireland.
“It is therefore important for women to accept their invitation for a screening test – it could literally save your life.
“Screening aims to prevent cancer from occurring in the first place, by checking for pre-cancerous changes in the cells that line the cervix. Any early changes can then be successfully treated.”
In Northern Ireland cervical screening is offered to women aged 25-49 every three years, and 50-64 year olds every five years.
Doctors are growing increasingly concened, however, that women may be put off attending their test due to fear of both the exam itself, and fear of the results.
To combat this, the PHA has produced a video in a bid to show women how ‘simple the process is’ in a bid to reassure them.
Dr Owen explained: “The test only takes a few minutes and is usually carried out by a nurse.
“This is one of the few cancers that is preventable. It is estimated that in a well-screened population, seven out of ten cervical cancers can be prevented.
“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 in looking after your health.”
As well as cervical screening, there is also a vaccine available that helps protect girls against cervical cancer.
“In Northern Ireland all girls in year 9 are offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in school. This vaccine protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which are known to cause 70% of cervical cancers. We would recommend all girls receive the vaccine when it is offered to them. Girls who have had the vaccine are still advised to attend for cervical screening when they are invited to do so,” concluded Dr Owen.
However, like other cancer screening programmes, there is no guarantee that you will still not develop cancer.
A cancer could develop between screening tests, or there is a small chance that the test misses an abnormality.
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, even if they attend regularly for screening.
The cervical screening video covers the whole process of screening – from receiving the invitation letter to getting the results. It is aimed at women who have been invited for the first time and those who have never had a screening test. It can be viewed at www.pha.site/cervicalvideo
For more information about the HPV vaccine please see www.pha.site/hpv.