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Women with previous smear abnormalities will still be able to get colposcopy appointments

Due to a surge in Covid-19 cases, a number of GP clinics won’t be able to offer smear tests as part of CervicalCheck.

Image: Shutterstock/Free Belarus

WOMEN WHO HAVE had cancer or a smear abnormality previously will still be able to attend colposcopy appointments during Level 5 restrictions, it has been confirmed.

For women who are well and are due a smear test, the advice is to book an appointment with a GP while accepting that it may be in “two weeks time, in four weeks time, it might even be six weeks’ time”.

This week, Ireland’s cervical smear test programme CervicalCheck said that some GP clinics are under pressure due to the surge in requests for Covid-19 tests associated with the third wave.

This is a short-term delay to the cervical cancer screening programme, it said.

Women are being advised to book with GP clinics who have the capacity to offer cervical screening, or else to book an appointment with their GP for when a time slot becomes available – which may be in two to six weeks’ time.

As is always the case, women who experience symptoms such as bleeding in between periods, bleeding after having sex, or abdominal pains should not wait for their next smear test and contact their GP.

In the case of these symptoms, more than a smear test may be necessary; the screening CervicalCheck programme is for women who are well without symptoms. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, CervicalCheck director Dr Nóirín Russell said that all 15 colposcopy clinics still want to examine women with smear abnormalities who have been referred on for further examination during Level 5 restrictions.

“They have all expressed the desire to keep working. So they may be working at a reduced level but they all want to stay working.

“So yes, they are still being prioritised… They are going to prioritise seeing women with high-grade disease, and those where GP is concerned that the woman’s cervix looks suspicious for cervical cancer. So that referral path is still open.”

CervicalCheck is a free programme that screens women aged 25-65 in Ireland for cancer through a smear test, and divides them into low-risk and high-risk groups.

The women who receive a negative result are in the low-risk group, and come back for a test in 3 to 5 years, while the high-risk group are referred on for a colposcopy, where around 80% of women don’t require treatment, but may require another examination in six months or a year’s time.

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After that time period, women are called directly to colposcopy clinic, and do not need to go through GP clinics – meaning that women deemed at ‘high risk’ will still get access to these services during Level 5 restrictions, when GPs are under huge pressure.

Between 30 March and 6 July, the CervicalCheck programme was paused as Ireland grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic. In November and December, 6,000 samples were received a month when around 4,000 were expected.

Dr Russell said that there have been other times since it resumed when GP clinics weren’t able to provide CervicalCheck smear tests, but by and large they have been available to women. 

When the numbers were lower, the GPs were really in a much better position to provide screening. 
Once we restarted in July, we had a few calls from women who weren’t able to get a screening test, but [it was] really very minimal.
We did receive a few calls and said ‘look, here’s the website, check the other providers in your area’ and that would usually sort out the issue. But what we’re seeing now is far less people able to know what they are doing next week.

A lot of 25-year-olds who were eligible last year for the CervicalCheck programme still haven’t registered with CervicalCheck, she said.

You can check if you’re on the CervicalCheck register here.

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