Women have been urged to make their cervical screening appointments despite the current pandemic on what is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.
Clinical Director of CervicalCheck, Dr Nóirín Russell, advised women to continue to make appointments and assured the public that GP practices have measures in place to make interaction with patients as safe as it possibly can be.
“There is a lot of fear too and a lot of women are saying, ‘I’m not going anywhere near a healthcare setting, I’ll wait’ and that's very reasonable, I understand that,” she said, but said that her advice “very much would be that it's very safe and not to be afraid of going into a healthcare setting”.
She said there are measures in place “to make interaction as safe as it possibly can be” including extra PPE and avoiding time spent in waiting rooms.
She said that following the pause in the service from March 30 to July 6 last year, 100,000 women who received their invitation for screening in 2020 are yet to have their appointment and urged them to make one as “every single person who gets screened now is one less person to be screened post this wave”.
Women without symptoms have been advised to schedule an appointment with their own doctor at a time when screening recommences or to call other practices in their area who are currently carrying out screening.
She stressed, however, that “if you are a woman with symptoms, that goes out the window.”
She said that any woman who experiences intermenstrual bleeding or bleeding after intercourse “shouldn’t be going for a screening test at all, she should be going to the GP for an assessment because she may need urgent gynecological assessment”.
Cork-based GP Dr Doireann O’Leary said that women can eradicate cervical cancer in their lifetime “by attending for cervical cancer screening and getting the HPV vaccine”.
The GP, who has had cervical cancer, explained that the new more effective HPV screening method sees the lab check for 14 high-risk strains of HPV.
“If HPV is detected the cells are checked for pre-cancer changes.
“The old system detected 15 cases of pre-cancer per 1,000 screening tests done; the new system detects 18 cases per 1,000 tests done,” she said.
She advised that women “can attend any surgery registered with CervicalCheck”.
“CervicalCheck is still processing samples received by smear takers during Level 5 restrictions. I’m still sending screening tests every week,” she said.
A list of registered surgeries can be found here.