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Explainer: Do you need to get a repeat smear test?

Many women across the country are wondering what action they should take in light of the recent controversy – here’s everything you need to know.

Image: Shutterstock/Iryna Inshyna

TODAY THE TAOISEACH announced there will be a redress scheme for women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal.

It was revealed yesterday that 17 women whose cases were part of a review of smear tests have died. All of these women had a cancer diagnosis after receiving clear results in an earlier screening.

Currently 208 smear tests have been identified as needing a different or additional action to the one that was taken. Of that number, 162 women weren’t told their cases had been reviewed.

Further cases are likely to be identified before the end of this month and any other woman who is impacted will be informed by then.

The CervicalCheck helpline has received more than 6,000 calls in recent days, many from people who had normal screening test results. Many women are wondering what action they should take now.

Can I go for a repeat smear test?

Yes.

Even if you are not due for another free smear test under the national screening programme this year, you can still go back to your GP and have another test if you are worried.

The State will cover the cost of both the GP visit (even if you don’t have a repeat test after the consultation) and the test.

CervicalCheck has said if you had normal results after your last screening, you do not need urgent retesting – read more on this below.

Should I go for a repeat test?

This afternoon Minister Simon Harris clarified some of the advice around this. Depending on your current circumstances, here’s what you can do…

If you have cervical cancer, or have had it in recent years…

You may have been included in this audit.

The minister said every woman who has had a cervical cancer diagnosis in Ireland since screenings began in 2008 will now have their screening history reviewed by a team of cytologists from the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

This will be concluded by the end of May and any woman impacted by it will be contacted.

If you have queries about your case, you can talk to your oncology clinic or team.

You can also call the CervicalCheck Freephone line 1800 45 45 55. They will arrange for a callback to let you know if you are affected. Calls from women who have had a cancer diagnosis are being prioritised.

If you are showing symptoms…

According to the HSE, symptoms are not always obvious, but the most common are:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex
  • Smelly discharge
  • Discomfort during intercourse
  • Post-menopausal women may also experience bleeding

If you have any of these symptoms, go to see your GP.

If you are not showing symptoms but are still worried…

CervicalCheck has said any woman who had normal screening results at their most recent test does not need an urgent screening test.

“The HSE Serious Incident Management Team has reviewed the overall screening process and how it is affected by this audit. We are assured that women who have had normal screening results do not clinically require an urgent smear test.”

However, if you have concerns, you are entitled to go back for another test – this is your decision.

You can go to your GP for a consultation and after you have discussed it with them you can request another smear test.

If you have had a recent cervical screening you must wait at least three months before being tested again. This is to allow cells to grow back and to get the best samples.

These consultations will be paid for through CervicalCheck, whether a screening test is carried out or not.

The Department of Health has said GPs and smeartakers will be advised of a reimbursement process over the coming days, so if you are booking an appointment, ask the doctor or their receptionist about payment arrangements.

I have a smear test scheduled – should I still go?

Yes, you should still attend as planned. 

CervicalCheck has said regular cervical screening is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of cervical cancer.

It has been stressed in recent days that this test is a screening, it is not diagnostic.

The test will show up abnormalities and, in these cases, the patients will be referred for further tests.

As with any screening process, there is a margin of error.

The HSE’s Tony O’Brien said today the rate of effectiveness  with CervicalCheck’s tests is about 70%. However, Dr Peter McKenna, Clinical Director of the National Women and Infants Health Programme later told the Health Committee that the false-negative rate is about 10%.

The HSE has been asked to clarify these figures considering the large discrepancy between the two.

Source: HSE Ireland/YouTube

Over three million smear tests have been carried out in Ireland since 2008. Over 50,000 cases of pre-cancer and cancer have been detected and treated.

You can check when your next free cervical screening is due here.

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