Friday 20 September 2019

Explainer: What happens next for women in Ireland concerned about cervical cancer scandal?

Irish Independent Health Correspondent, Eilish O'Regan, looks at what happens next

Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Health Minister Simon Harris
(stock picture)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

As more details emerge in the the growing health cervical cancer controversy, our Health Correspondent, Eilish O'Regan, looks at what happens next.

Q: There are more worrying revelations to emerge about the numbers of women with cervical cancer. It now seems the figure of 1,482 notified to CervicalCheck over the last decade was an underestimate?

A: Yes, it seems so. The Health Minister, Simon Harris, said more than 1,500 additional women were diagnosed with the disease since 2008 whose cases were not recorded by CervicalCheck. It brings the total number to 3,000.

Q: CervicalCheck is a screening service. Which agency notifies them of cases of cervical cancer?

A: The National Cancer Registry passes on the information to CervicalCheck. The screening service then examines if the woman has used its screening and had a smear test.

The next step is to re-investigate the result of that test to see if abnormalities or cancer was missed.

Q: Have all of these 1,500 women been diagnosed and in treatment?

A: Yes. There are none of them unaware that they have the disease.

Q: So what are the outstanding questions?

A: We don’t know if they had a test with CervicalCheck which was mis-read.

Q We were told earlier this week that reviews were carried out on 208 women who were wrongly given the all clear and went on to develop cancer.

Just 162 were informed of the review and 17 women were dead. What is the update on their cases?

A: CervicalCheck was due to arrange for all the women to be notified this week of the review. In the case of women who died, their next of kin were to be contacted

As of yesterday the HSE was unable to give an update on how many contacts had been made except saying that it was underway.

Q: So there is a possibility, based on the fact that additional cases of cervical cancer have emerged, that more women could end up in this category.

In other words, that their smear test was misdiagnosed and their treatment was delayed?

A: Yes. That is a possibility.

Q: I hope we don’t have to endure a delay of months or years before we get answers to all of this. There is a Hiqa review of CervicalCheck planned and also an external review.

There is huge concern about the quality of service at CervicalCheck but are we any clearer on when the re-testing will be available for women who want to be re-screened?

A: GPs and clinics are expecting clearer guidelines on this today.

Q: If I regularly get smear tests, is there something I should be doing now?

The advice is to always be alert for potential symptoms of cervical cancer. Never ignore them.

In most cases, vaginal bleeding is the first noticeable symptom of cervical cancer. It usually occurs after having sex. Bleeding at any other time, other than your expected monthly period also considered unusual. This includes bleeding after the menopause.

Visit your GP for advice if you experience any type of unusual vaginal bleeding. 

Or, if you have any worries, it is possible to ring the CervicalCheck helpline 1800 45 45 55.

Q: Can women find out what lab their own smear tests were read in?

It is not automatically available in the information they receive after a test. However, it is possible to ring the CervicalCheck helpline 1800 45 45 55 and request the information.

Q: If someone does not have confidence in the cervical screening programme, is there a way to get a smear test privately or is there any alternative to a smear test?

Yes, the Dublin Well Woman Centre and other services provide a private service. It can cost €85 to €100.

The centre said it has seen a significant increase in the number of women emailing and telephoning regarding smear testing.

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