The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) is to identify the best screening method to prevent cervical cancer.
In particular, the independent authority will decide whether human papillomavirus (HPV) testing should be the first procedure.
Currently, liquid-based cytology is used as the primary screening tool by the National Cervical Screening Programme – CervicalCheck.
About 300 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in Ireland and over 90 women die from the disease.
When a woman presents for a smear test, cells from the cervix are taken and placed in a liquid solution to preserve them.
The sample is sent to a laboratory for examination and if low grade abnormalities are found it is then tested for genetic material (DNA) of the human papillomavirus.
The test for HPV DNA determines if the woman should be referred for a colposcopy — a closer examination of her cervix — or back to routine screening.
Using HPV DNA testing as the primary test followed by liquid-based cytology, has the potential to improve the detection of cancerous and pre-cancerous cell changes and to increase the efficiency of the screening process.
HIQA’s director of health technology assessment, Dr Máirín Ryan, said they would be examining international evidence on the clinical and cost-effectiveness of HPV testing.
Dr Ryan said the authority would show the benefits of HPV testing along with the budget impact of switching to the screening tool for the Irish healthcare system.
In most cases, HPV, a common sexually transmitted infection, causes no symptoms and is cleared by the body’s immune system, but persistent infection with a number of HPV virus types can lead to the development of cervical cancer.
The final results of the health technology assessment is expected at the end of the year and will be submitted to the national screening service for examination.
In 2009 the national cervical screening programme started and a year later, on the advice of Hiqa, the HSE began a HPV school immunisation programme for girls.
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