Cervical cancer found in 100 women during screening
ONE hundred women were diagnosed with cervical cancer after being tested during the first year of the national screening programme.
A report into the scheme said the high rate of cancer indicated the "pent-up demand" for free smear tests -- which do not directly detect the disease, but can find changes in cells which signal the need for further investigation.
Ireland was behind many other countries in setting up its national screening programme in September 2008 -- contributing to a high toll of 73 deaths a year from the disease.
The report showed that 284,833 women had the free tests in the first year when an "open-door" policy prevailed, with the highest uptake among women aged 25 to 29 years.
Of these, almost 85pc were deemed normal -- but 13.9pc showed low-grade abnormalities, while 1.4pc showed high-grade abnormalities.
If there is an 80pc take-up of the smears, over time it will be possible to cut the death rate by 80pc also, said the director of the National Cervical Screening Programme Tony O'Brien.
The lowest take-up was among women aged 55 to 60 years, although more of these should come forward, he said.
During the year, 23,058 women were referred onwards for a more intensive colposcopy examination and 4,714 of these had treatment.
The target is to see 90pc of women with "high-grade" abnormalities who need investigation in less than four weeks.
However, during the first year this target figure fell from 99.7pc to 59.4pc in May 2009 when there was a surge in women coming for tests influenced in part by the death of reality TV star Jade Goody from cervical cancer.
But the target is currently being met in a majority of areas of the country. It is still under pressure in some counties, although several more colposcopy clinics are being expanded or opened.
Of those women called back for further investigation, 10,094 attended while another 2,212 cancelled their appointment and 727 did not attend.
A failsafe system is in place to try to track these women.
The programme is aimed at women between 25 to 60 years of age. It is now in its third year and operates both on letters of invitation, as well as a system of direct entry for women who can sign up online.
Mr O'Brien said the database they were now working from to send out letters of invitation -- of call and recall -- was about 5pc inaccurate. This meant 39,000 call and recall letters went to the wrong addresses.
However, he believed this would decrease as more women directly sign up for a test. It is also possible to go online and check personal details to ensure they have the correct address.
The turn-around time for the results of the tests which are sent to the US for analysis is 10 days.
An Irish-based laboratory will open next year allowing for half the tests to be read here.
Mr O'Brien said some women will be offered up to 11 routine smear tests in a lifetime and will remain part of the programme for 35 years .