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Over 20,000 women put off crucial smear test

MORE than 20,000 Irish women chose to ignore reminders about smear tests last year.

Cervical Check, the National Cervical Screening Programme, said there has been a huge surge in the number of women attending their service since the death of Jade Goody from the disease a year ago.

Goody was diagnosed with cervical cancer in August 2008 and after a short illness passed away in March 2009. The Big Brother star was just 27 years old and mother to two little boys.

Cervical Check, which provides free smear tests to women in Ireland aged between 25 and 60, sent out some 300,000 letters of invitation last year.

However, 20,000 chose to ignore the letters, with 280,000 opting to make an appointment for a free smear test.

"These are letters that can save your life," Sheila Caulfield, head of communications with Cervical Check, told the Herald.

"We have had a fairly good response to it but as of yet, it is still too early to tell just how many lives have been saved."

Of the 280,000 women who opted to be tested, some 30,000 were recalled.

Within six months, these women were tested again and had their results analysed. Treatment was then given if deemed necessary. These are relatively small numbers of recalls and very often the abnormal cells found are not cancerous.

Women in their early 20s have been attending clinics believing they have as high a risk of cervical cancer as older women since the death of Jade Goody. However, it is not considered necessary to test women under 25.

"The smear test is not useful for under 25s. It has no proven worth at that age.

"Despite the calls to lower the age for testing since last year, there appears to be no real need for it," Sheila Caulfield said.

Approximately 180 new cases of cervical cancer arise every year in Ireland; from this approximately 73 lose their lives.

"The average age of diagnosis is 46 and the average age of death is 56 but cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers as the test detects cells that could possibly turn cancerous, rather than ones that are already cancerous," said Cervical Check's spokesperson.

Cervical Check is currently in year two of the programme but it is on track to reach its goal of testing 1.1 million women by September 2011.