One in four 'miss cancer tests'
One in four women in Northern Ireland failed to have a cervical screening test in one year, a major cancer charity has warned.
Only 77% have taken up their health clinic invitations and in Belfast the figure is even lower.
Confusion, embarrassment, fear and a lack of convenient appointment times for working women were among the explanations for the low uptake.
Cancer survivor Michelle Roe said: "If I had known that cervical screenings were to detect abnormalities before they turned cancerous, and could potentially save your life, I would never have ignored the invite that fell through my letterbox time and time again."
This week marks the launch of Northern Ireland's first Cervical Cancer Prevention Week by national charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust. The campaign hopes to increase awareness in Belfast - where cervical screening uptake is lowest - by carrying advertisements on buses calling for local women to attend their check-ups.
The first face-to-face support group for those diagnosed has also been created.
Every day in the UK, nine women are told they have cervical cancer and three lives are lost. According to 2009 statistics from the charity, one in four women in Northern Ireland do not attend screening. In Belfast only 72% show up.
Robert Music, director of the charity, said: "The screening programme saves 5,000 lives each year in the UK yet almost a quarter of women in Northern Ireland are not being screened."
Ms Roe will be co-leading the Belfast support group, speaking from her own experience battling cancer after delaying cervical screening for about five years. It was only when visiting her doctor for a skin complaint that she was reminded to make an appointment.
Following diagnosis almost three years ago the cancer spread, forcing the removal of her ovaries and lymph nodes as well as a hysterectomy and a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. "I now suffer with bowel damage, lymphoedema, infertility and have dealt with going through the menopause in my thirties," she said.