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How to Reduce your Risk of Cervical Cancer

The 21st of January marks the beginning of Cervical Cancer Prevention week. Each year in Ireland, around 300 women develop cervical cancer and 90 women die of the disease. We sat down with Dr Karnie Roden to put together three simple things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.

1. Take part in cervical screening programs

2. Know the symptoms of cervical cancer and visit your doctor if you are concerned

3. Encourage young girls to take the HPV vaccine

1. Cervical Cancer Screening Programs 

Cancer Screening Programs are programs that test for early or pre-cancer changes in people who feel healthy and have no symptoms. It is estimated that regular cervical cancer screening can prevent 75% of cervical cancer cases, saving lives. Cervical Cancer and the Screening program were topics that were in the news a fair bit in 2018, but what exactly do you need to know?

What is Cervical Screening?
It is when a doctor or nurse takes some cells from a woman’s cervix to see if there are any signs that a woman may have cervical cancer or may be likely to develop cervical cancer in the future. The test does not take any cells from the ovaries or uterus (womb).

What happens during a smear test?
For the test you will be asked to remove your underwear and lie on you back or side. The doctor or nurse performing the smear will then insert a device called a ‘speculum’ into the vagina and use a small brush to gently sweep some cells from the top of the cervix. They may also need to insert two fingers into the vagina to feel for any changes in the ovaries or womb.

Does a Cervical Smear hurt?
It may be a little uncomfortable but should not hurt. It is worth keeping in mind the test generally takes less than five minutes.

How accurate is the cervical screening test?
It is very accurate, however unfortunately there is no screening test that is 100% accurate. Of every 1000 women screened, 20 women will have abnormal or pre-cancerous cells on their cervix. Screening will pick up about 15 of these abnormalities, in women with no symptoms. About 5 of those 1000 women will not have their abnormal cells detected by screening and may be at risk of going on to develop cervical cancer. Cervical cancer takes many years to develop, so it is worth noting that if you have regular cervical smears, there is a greater chance that any abnormalities missed on one smear, will be detected on the next one.

How do I go about getting a smear test?
In Ireland, the government sponsors a free Cervical Cancer Screening Programme called CervicalCheck, which is free to women between the ages of 25 and 60. Regular invitations to attend your doctor for a test will be sent to people in this age groups. If you are in this age groups and have not received an invitation, you can go online to cervicalcheck.ie or call 1800 45 45 55 to see when your test is due.

What if I am not in these age groups and want to have a cervical smear test?
It is still possible to have a cervical smear test if you are outside of the 25-60-year age group, however, you may be charged for it. Discuss with your doctor why you would like to have the test and they will advise you of your options.

2. Know the symptoms of cervical cancer

 Many women will have no symptoms at all, particularly in early stages of the disease. Other symptoms that you would need to discuss with your doctor include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, for example, bleeding in between periods, bleeding after sex, or bleeding after the menopause
  • A discharge from the vagina that may be blood stained or foul smelling
  • A discomfort or pain in your lower tummy or pelvis

It is important to remember these symptoms can also be caused by other problems that are not cancerous.


3. Encourage young girls to get the HPV vaccine

Taking the HPV vaccine can help prevent against several types of cervical cancers and it’s important to encourage girls to get the vaccine while they’re young and it can have the most effect. The current HPV vaccine prevents 7 out of 10 cervical cancers and works best when given to 12 to 13-year-old girls. It is extremely an extremely safe vaccine to get.

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