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Older women not availing of important cervical cancer screenings - report

The National Cancer Screening Service has raised concerns about the low proportion of women aged over 50 who have availed of free screenings for cervical cancer.

Image: euthman via Flickr/Creative Commons

A LOW PROPORTION of older women who are eligible for free cervical cancer screenings are availing of the service – a situation which is worrying medical professionals.

The latest report from CervicalCheck revealed a high level of participation in the screening programme generally, with the highest proportions of women availing of the free checks being in the younger age groups (25 to 44 years). However, the low proportion of women over 50 attending for smear tests has worried medical professionals.

Majella Byrne, Acting Director of National Cancer Screening Service, said women over 50 years must be encouraged to attend cervical screening: “A low proportion of women over 50 years of age attend for a smear test. This is a challenge to be addressed and women over 50 years must be encouraged to attend cervical screening.”

The latest report, which monitors programme uptake between the period of 1 September and 31 August 2011, shows that 338,670 free smear tests were conducted by CervicalCheck during this time. Over 84 per cent of satisfactory smear test results (ie negative or normal) were returned, while 13.9 per cent showed low grade abnormalities and 1.7 per cent showed high grade abnormalities.

During that period, more than 17,430 women attended a colposcopy appointment for the first time. In addition, 20,769 women attended a follow-up colposcopy appointment. As a result, pre-cancerous abnormalities were detected in 8,091 women.

Over 6,930 treatments to women were performed at colposcopy and 104 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer.

CervicalCheck said that colposcopy waiting times for all 15 of the programme’s colposcopy services were reduced in line with targets during 2011 and have remained within targets since.

“The percentage of the eligible population screened in the first three years of the programme was over 60 per cent. This demonstrates that CervicalCheck achieved its target coverage during the first screening round. 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 Byrne.

She added: “The programme remains focused on maintaining high participation in screening, through informing and educating eligible women on the benefits of screening and ongoing support of health professionals and wider medical community.”

The National Cancer Screening Service says regular smear tests at recommended intervals can prevent cervical cancer, pointing out that some women will be recalled for up to 11 routine smear tests and will remain part of the CervicalCheck programme for 35 years.

It said the programme is also to consider “a more tailored approach” to protocols for management of women with low grade abnormalities, as the percentage of low grade abnormalities recorded (13.9 per cent) during the time period covered in the report was above the expected norm – although  this percentage was reportedly reduced during year four of the programme.

Read: Cervical cancer dangers highlighted as awareness week begins>
Read: Mary Robinson calls for greater access to cervical cancer vaccines>

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