Cervical Check surpasses screening targets in 2021

Cervical Check surpasses screening targets in 2021

HPV is a common virus transmitted through sexual activity. Affecting men and women, the HSE says it is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer. File Picture.

Just 11% of women who go for cervical screening were found to be HPV-positive, a virus which can be an early marker for this cancer in some cases, the Cervical Check programme has found.

New data also shows out of this 11%, only half were found to have abnormal cells on further examination.

HPV is a common virus transmitted through sexual activity. Affecting men and women, the HSE says it is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer. It can cause changes in cervical cells which if left untreated could lead to cancer.

“It is important to know that even if you are HPV positive that half of them (those women) will not have any abnormal cells,” said Dr Noirin Russell, clinical director with the Cervical Check programme.

So when you go for screening, your chance of needing to be referred on for a colposcopy is around 5 to 6%.

Screening services were closed in 2020 due to the pandemic leading to just 143,334 tests being completed, in comparison to over 206,000 in 2019. But, last year, over 320,000 tests were completed.

“We ended up doing 14% more than what our target was, it was incredibly busy,” she said.

She said the HPV test is “changing the playing field” and said: "We have found that the presence of HPV is a much better predictor of the woman’s risk of future cancer than the presence of abnormal cells." 

The majority of women who go for a colposcopy do not need further treatment, she said, with about 6,500 women needing treatment annually for abnormal cells.

“For the majority of women that reduces their risk of developing cancer in the future,” Dr Russell said.

They get their abnormal cells removed when they are pre-cancerous and never have any problems.

She stressed these are services for women without symptoms and anyone with bleeding after intercourse or between periods should see a doctor.

She is also hopeful the HPV vaccine, offered to girls since 2010 and boys since 2019, will reduce cervical cancer rates.

In Australia, where it has been used since 2007, they hope to eradicate this cancer by 2030. 

Cervical Check is sending Irish data to the Australian modelling team to get projections for the situation here.

Missed targets

Separate figures show just seven counties hit the target of 80% of eligible women screened. Waterford was the only Munster county, screening 82.5% during a five year period up to March 2020.

This data, released to Fine Gael TD Colm Burke, shows rates in Cork were 77.9%; Clare, 74.5%; Kerry, 76%; Limerick, 78.1%, and Tipperary, 78.1%.

“I was pleased to be informed that in 2022 the National Screening Service will implement a targeted information campaign which aims to increase uptake among women and people with a cervix aged 50 and above as well as those living in counties where uptake is lowest,” Mr Burke said.

It also showed younger women are more likely to attend with 89% of women aged 25 to 29 going compared with 59.7% of women aged 60 to 65.

Meanwhile, Dr Gabriel Scally has been asked to undertake a progress review of recommendations made in 2020; this followed his inquiry into cases of women not informed of an audit of their cervical smear tests after being diagnosed with cancer.

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