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The National Cancer Screening Service issues CervicalCheck programme report

- Uptake steady, yet older women not availing of important screening

2 October 2011 – The National Cancer Screening Service, part of the Health Service Executive National Cancer Control Programme, today issues the CervicalCheck Programme Report, providing screening statistics for the third year of the programme’s operation (1 September 2010 to 31 August 2011). 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 of cervical cancer by detecting changes in the cells of the cervix before they become cancerous. In the first four years since the programme launched on 1 September 2008, almost 1.3 million CervicalCheck smear tests were processed and more than 830,000 women have had at least one free smear test.

In brief, from 1 September 2010 – 31 August 2011:

  • CervicalCheck provided over 338,670 free smear tests.
  • Over 84 per cent of satisfactory smear test results in the period were negative or normal. 13.9 per cent showed low grade abnormalities. 1.7 per cent showed high grade abnormalities.
  • Over 17,430 women women attended a colposcopy appointment for the first time. In addition, 20,769 women attended a follow-up colposcopy appointment.
  • Pre-cancerous abnormalities were detected in 8,091 women.
  • Over 6,930 treatments to women were performed at colposcopy and 104 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer.
  • Colposcopy waiting times for all 15 programme CervicalCheck colposcopy services were reduced in line with targets during 2011 and have remained within targets since.

Commenting on the performance, Ms Majella Byrne, Acting Director, National Cancer Screening Service said: “CervicalCheck demonstrates high participation in screening generally. However a low proportion of women over 50 years of age attend for a smear test. This is a challenge to be addressed and women over 50 years must be encouraged to attend cervical screening. The highest proportions of women who attend are in the younger age groups (25 to 44 years).

“The percentage of the eligible population screened in the first three years of the programme was over 60 per cent. This demonstrates that CervicalCheck achieved its target coverage during the first screening round. The programme’s aim to achieve 80 per cent coverage of the eligible population by the end of the second three-year screening round in 2014 remains a challenging target.  The programme remains focussed on maintaining high participation in screening, through informing and educating eligible women on the benefits of screening and ongoing support of health professionals and wider medical community.”

A single smear test has little benefit to a woman. Regular smear tests at recommended intervals can prevent cervical cancer. Some women will be recalled for up to 11 routine smear tests and will remain part of the CervicalCheck programme for 35 years. Screening is effective when women continue to be screened regularly.

Screening policy and implementation is continually reviewed by the National Cancer Screening Service. The recent introduction in May 2012 of HPV testing for a woman treated at colposcopy is an important development in the progress of the CervicalCheck programme.

The programme will consider a more tailored approach to protocols for management of women with low grade abnormalities.  The 13.9 per cent of low grade abnormalities is above the expected norm and while this percentage reduced during year four of the programme it requires further deliberation.

Over time, a successful national, quality-assured cervical screening programme has the potential to significantly reduce the incidence of and mortality from cervical cancer by as much as 80 per cent in the screened population.

As with its other population-based screening programmes, BreastCheck and the upcoming diabetic retinopathy screening programme and national colorectal screening programme which will commence later this year, the National Cancer Screening Service ensures that quality assurance is paramount for CervicalCheck and all the essential elements are in place to ensure risks to patients are minimised and that the best clinical outcomes for patients are maximised.

Download the programme report.



For further information:

Sheila Caulfield or Aoife O’Sullivan, Communications, National Cancer Screening Service

Tel: 01-865 9300  


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