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Thousands miss life-saving cervical smears

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Thousands of women are putting their lives at risk by not going for cervical smear tests, figures out today have confirmed.





Statistics released by Northern Ireland’s health boards show that almost one in four women have not had a smear test in the past five years.

A smear is a simple examination of the cervix, available to all women aged between 20 and 64-years-old, to detect changes in cervical cells that could develop into cancer if left untreated.

In Northern Ireland about 80 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. The disease has been propelled into the spotlight with the tragic case of reality television star Jade Goody who has only months to live as a result of the devastating illness.

Despite the real risks, however, 121,004 women who were eligible last year did not go for the potentially lifesaving test. The figure is slightly down on the 123,022 women who did not attend smear clinics during 2007 and 123,787 who were not tested in 2006.

In 2008 the lowest uptake was in the Eastern Health and Social Services Board area — which covers Belfast, Down and south Antrim — where 53,924 (30.7%) women did not have a smear.

In the Western board area of Limavady, Londonderry, Fermanagh, Strabane and Omagh, 20,218 (27.65%) women were not tested, while in the Southern board area of Armagh, Dungannon, Craigavon, Banbridge, Newry and Mourne, the figure was 23,602 (27.27%).

The highest take-up was in the Northern Health and Social Services Board area with 23,119 (22.88%) of women not having the examination.

Dr Tracy Owen, regional quality assurance director for cervical screening in Northern Ireland, has renewed appeals for women to come forward for tests.

Dr Owen said the best way any woman can reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer is to attend for regular smear tests.

“In Northern Ireland, women aged 20 to 64 years are currently invited for screening every three to five years. In 2008, only 74% of women in this age group had had a smear test in the last five years.

“Cervical cancer is a preventable disease and all women are encouraged to attend for screening.”

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