Women urged to attend screening
A UK cancer charity has warned levels of cervical cancer among Northern Irish women could rise if they continue ignoring their screening test invitations.
Almost a quarter of women in the country fail to attend their screening appointment, which is scheduled once every three years.
Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust will therefore spend the next six months targeting GP surgeries across Northern Ireland with information packs, urging women to take up their invitations.
Charity director Robert Music said incidence levels in Northern Ireland are higher than the UK average, yet screening rates are still relatively low.
"Cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease thanks to the cervical screening programme and it is vital all those who are eligible attend when they receive an invitation," Mr Music said. "We are particularly worried about the trend where women are ignoring their first and last invitation as this could potentially lead to an increase in women diagnosed with the disease."
Recent studies found that 22% of those eligible for screening - aged 25 to 64 - do not attend, and the lowest uptake falls among those who are due their first and last ever appointments.
According to figures from the Northern Ireland Cervical Screening Programme's annual report for 2010 to 2011, in both the 25 to 29 and 60 to 64 age groups, 28% ignore or delay their screening invitation. Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust said this could lead to an increase in those diagnosed with the illness.
"Screening plays a vital role as early stage cervical cancer, in the majority of cases, is symptomless," Mr Music said.
"In the best case scenario cervical screening is designed to detect abnormal cells before they turn cancerous saving a woman from going through invasive treatment with devastating consequences. But screening also plays a vital role in catching the disease as early as possible, improving survival rates."
Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust will use Cervical Screening Awareness Week, from June 9 to 15, to remind women of the importance of screening.