Wednesday 23 August 2017

'Women put themselves last, they put everybody else first' - Irish GPs stress the importance of regular smear tests

Cervical cancer affects about 300 women in Ireland each year
Cervical cancer affects about 300 women in Ireland each year

Meadhbh McGrath and Patricia Murphy

Irish medical experts have once again stressed the importance of regular smear tests in the prevention of cervical cancer and urged Irish women to avail of the free service available to them, which could save their lives.

Dr Grainne Flannelly, Clinical Director of Colposcopy at CervicalCheck said that while 79pc of Irish women keep up to date with regular screening, it is Irish women over the age of 50 who are least likely to keep on top of their cervical health.

Cervical cancer affects about 300 women in Ireland each year and free screenings are available free of charge to women between the ages of 25 and 60.

Read more: What happens when you get a smear test? A step-by-step guide to cervical screening

“Cervical cancer takes a long time to develop and often has no symptoms, which is why regular screening is so important. The objective of our programme is to reduce the incidence and mortality, that is the number of the women getting cervical cancer and the number of women dying from cervical cancer.

“The group that we’re most interested in reaching out to are our over-50s, the women who grew up without screening and who for one reason or another seem to be more reluctant about keeping their smears up to date than their younger cohorts.

Free screenings are available free of charge to women between the ages of 25 and 60.
Free screenings are available free of charge to women between the ages of 25 and 60.

“We need 80pc of women to be up to date with their smears and the latest result I have is that we’ve reached 79.2pc, so that’s quite healthy, although we’d like to push it above 80pc.

“The younger women are our best group, women aged 25-35 are well above 80pc,” she said.

Read more: Cervical cancer: All you need to know

Dublin GP Edel McGinnity admitted that her patients often put the health of their family ahead of their own, but stressed that regular smear tests need to be taken more seriously.

“The women in these areas, my experience is that they put themselves last, they put everybody else first, especially their kids. The last thing on their mind is to go to that appointment for CervicalCheck.

“People are often very busy and they come to see us when they have an acute problem like a chest infection or their child is sick, but outside of those times it can be very difficult for them to keep appointments because they’re too busy with complications in their lives, dealing with school, dealing with kids, and when they come to see someone like me, there’s often so much going on in that visit that it becomes very difficult to say, your smear is overdue. I have this problem frequently,” she said.

The GP also stressed that women from more disadvantaged backgrounds may be less likely to avail of the free service and suggested that this is something that should be addressed by the Health Service.

“There is an issue of women in disadvantaged areas not getting screening, because they don’t come for their cervical check, and cervical cancer is higher in those areas, so that’s a big worry,” she said.

CervicalCheck's Dr Grainne Flannelly also urged gay women to keep up to date with their screenings and dispelled the myth that it is only those who partake in penetrative sex that should be concerned with getting a smear.

“Our programme is very clear that women who have sex with women very much need to have screening in the same way as other women. They have the same risk of developing cervical pre-cancerous lesions and cervical cancer as women who have sex with men,” she said.

Read more: 'Me and my dad joked about going through therapy together... he passed away six weeks later' - a young Irish woman's harrowing story

Ania Sherlock (25), who is two years into remission after a battle with cervical cancer, stressed the importance of availing of regular smear testing and said that for Irish women, it should be “common sense”.

“You need to weigh out the options. To go for a smear test that literally takes ten minutes or to spend a year or two fighting for your life. It’s just common sense. Take advantage of it, do it. The reason why a lot of people don’t do it is because it’s embarrassing and invasive. But you just have to remember these people are doctors doing their jobs. You think it will never happen to you but that's what I thought too.”

For more information visit: www.cervicalcheck.ie

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