Dr Caitríona Henchion
Medical Director, Irish Family Planning Association
Smear tests have been available in Ireland for over a decade, but since March 2020, a new and improved test is being used nationwide: HPV cervical screening.
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, the area at the opening of your uterus (womb). Around 300 people in Ireland are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, with over 90 lives lost to the disease.
If you are a woman or a person with a cervix and have ever engaged in sexual contact, including non-penetrative sex, you may be at risk of developing cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer often has no symptoms and it can take a long time to develop. The symptoms can include unusual bleeding, pain in your pelvis or bleeding after sex. If you experience these symptoms, you should see a health professional. Never ignore symptoms.
The good news is that there are two highly effective ways of preventing cervical cancer: vaccination and screening.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer
HPV is the leading cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer. Most people contract HPV at some point and may not even be aware that they have it. Most people with HPV do not develop cancer. However, certain high-risk types of HPV can cause abnormal, or pre-cancerous, cells to develop in your cervix.
Around 300 people in Ireland are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, with over 90 lives lost to the disease.
HPV vaccination, offered to all first-year post-primary students, helps protect against high-risk HPV. Regular cervical screening as adults means these high-risk HPVs can be detected before they cause cervical cancer.
Routine, regular screening
During cervical screening, a small sample of cells is taken from your cervix, usually by a trained nurse. Since March 2020, all samples are tested for HPV. If HPV is found, your sample be tested for abnormal cells.
If there are no abnormal cells, you will be offered a repeat test in one year. If abnormal cells are present, you will be referred to a specialist clinic to see if you need any treatment to prevent cancer developing in the future.
Access to cervical screening
If you live in Ireland, and are aged 25 to 65, you can avail of free HPV cervical screening through the national Cervical Check programme.
You can then choose to have your screening appointment with your GP, a family planning clinic or a women’s health centre.