Belfast Telegraph

Smear test at 21 saved my life, says councillor calling for reduction in Northern Ireland age limit

By Donna Deeney

A councillor from Northern Ireland believes her life may have been saved after she went for a cervical cancer test when she was 21 - four years before women here are normally called for one.

Derry and Strabane councillor Caoimhe McKnight was living in Scotland in 2005 where the age of eligibility was 21.

But she said if she had been residing in Northern Ireland at the time it would have been another four years before she could have had the routine smear test.

Women aged 25-49 are invited every three years here, while those aged 50-64 are invited every five years.

The Sinn Fein councillor believes there is every possibility she could have developed cancer by the time she was eligible for testing here. She said she supports the campaign to lower the age for testing.

"I was living and working in Scotland when I was 21 and was called for a routine smear test," Councillor Knight said.

"Although the idea of going for the test did embarrass me I have four sisters and I knew they had all been through it.

"I eventually made an appointed a couple of months after the letter came in because I knew it was important.

"I didn't really give it a second thought afterwards so when I got word back from the hospital a few weeks later telling me the test had detected abnormal cells and I would need to go for treatment I was really shocked.

"The first thing I thought was, 'Do I have cancer?'

"I was in a bit of a panic but then I took a few deep breaths and calmed down and waited to go to the hospital where I talked to the doctors and completed my treatment.

"The abnormal cells were burned away and it was sore at the time but the pain went away very quickly."

Councillor Knight said if she had been living anywhere else in the UK other than Scotland at that time she wouldn't have been called for a test until she was 25.

"If I had had to wait until I was 25 I really do think there is every chance I could have had cancer - so I consider myself really lucky that I was where I was at the time," she said.

"What worries me now is that although Scotland was leading the way by offering smear tests to women from the age of 21, it has since changed the age of eligibility to 25.

"I am concerned that there are women out there who like me will have abnormal cells when they are 21. But unlike me they will now have to wait until they are 25 before they are offered a test, by which time those cells could have developed into cancer.

"Being tested at 21 probably saved my life and my family would have been devastated if I'd had to wait until I was 25," she added.

"Every year 1,000 women in the UK die from cervical cancer but a smear test will detect 75% of cancers and the earlier the test is done the better so why not offer the test to wom en from 21.

"Cervical smear tests can and do save lives every day of the week and I would encourage every woman to make sure she goes for regular testing from the age of 25 on.

"For women under 25 who have symptoms they are concerned about I would implore them to go to their GP and insist on a test."

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