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Second year of operation continues success of initial year

22 September 2011 – The National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS) today published the CervicalCheck Programme Report 2009-2010. The report provides screening statistics for the second year of the programme’s operation, 1 September 2009–31 August 2010. In addition, the report provides an overview of activity and developments within CervicalCheck, up to the time of publication. 

The overall aim of CervicalCheck is to reduce the incidence rate of cervical cancer by detecting changes on the cells of the cervix before become cancerous. Since its launch on 1 September 2008, CervicalCheck has proved successful, with an average 1,000 women availing of a free smear test per day during the first two years of operation.

In brief, from 1 September 2009–31 August 2010 CervicalCheck:

  • Provided 308,130 free smear tests to 279,877 women.
  • Over 85% of satisfactory smear test results in the period were negative or normal.
  • 12.5% showed low grade abnormalities. 2% showed high grade abnormalities.
  • 16,811 women attended a colposcopy appointment for the first time, an increase of 67% in comparison to the previous year.
  • In addition, 30,884 women attended a follow-up colposcopy appointment.
  • 7,546 treatments were performed at colposcopy.
  • Pre-cancerous abnormalities were detected in 5,518 women.

While the purpose of cervical screening is to detect changes in the cells of the cervix before they become cancerous, 145 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer during the reporting period.

Since the programme launched on 1 September 2008 to date, almost 950,000 smear tests have been processed and more than 710,000 eligible women aged 25 to 60 have had at least one free CervicalCheck smear test.

Commenting on the performance of CervicalCheck during the reporting period, Ms Majella Byrne, Acting Director, National Cancer Screening Service said: “The overall percentage of the eligible population screened in two years was 44.2 per cent nationwide. The target coverage after the first three-year round of screening is >60 per cent and 80 per cent after completion of the second round of screening.

After two years of operation this equates to a coverage target in excess of 40 per cent. It therefore appears that CervicalCheck is on course to achieve its coverage aim in this regard. However, the programme recognises the challenge that reaching this level of coverage poses and it is vital that the programme remains focussed on maintaining high levels of screening, through informing and educating eligible women, and ongoing support and facilitation of smeartakers –- GPs and practice nurses.”

Improving colposcopy services in Ireland has been a key priority for the CervicalCheck programme. The NCSS has set strict guidelines for referral to colposcopy, as outlined in the ‘Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Cervical Screening’ and the CervicalCheck Women’s Charter. The programme has a clear commitment to offer an appointment to women who need it, at a quality-assured colposcopy service within two weeks for urgent referrals, four weeks for high grade cell changes and eight weeks for low grade cell changes.

Dr Gráinne Flannelly, Clinical Director, CervicalCheck commented: “During the first and second year of operation, waiting times at some clinics were in excess of NCSS guidelines. As the programme reaches the end of the third year of operation, significant progress has been made in ensuring timely access to colposcopy services for women. Average waiting times across the 15 colposcopy services that support CervicalCheck have continued to improve and today, waiting lists have been eliminated and waiting times are within NCSS quality assurance guidelines. This has ensured that women who need a colposcopy appointment are seen promptly, avoiding unnecessary anxiety, or delay in diagnosis.”

Waiting times for access to a colposcopy service (September 2011):

  • 1.5 weeks for urgent referrals (within the 2 week target).
  • 3.4 weeks for high grade referrals (within the 4 week target).
  • 6.6 weeks for low grade referrals (within the 8 week target).

CervicalCheck has registered over 4,600 smeartakers (general practitioners [GPs], practice nurses and other medical practitioners) in approximately 1,350 locations. From 1 September 2009–31 August 2010, the vast majority (93%) of women had their smear tests carried out in the primary care setting. Ninety one per cent of these women attended a GP practice. Eight per cent (7.9%) of women opted to have their smear test at a clinic other than a GP practice such as a Family Planning, Women’s Health or Well Woman Clinic.

Higher proportions of the women screened were in the younger age groups, broadly consistent with the age profile of the eligible population. The highest level of uptake was among women aged 30 to 34, representing 16.2 per cent of all women screened. During the previous year, the highest level of uptake was among women aged 25 to 29. The second highest level was among women aged 25 to 29, representing 15.7% of all women screened. The lowest level of uptake was among women aged 55 to 60.

Over time, based on a target uptake of 80 per cent, a successful national, quality assured cervical screening programme has the potential to significantly reduce mortality rates in the screened population by as much as 80 per cent.


For further information:

Sheila Caulfield/Clare Manning, Communications, National Cancer Screening Service

Tel: 01-8659300 


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