Public Health Agency urges women to attend when called for cervical screening

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January is the month in the health calendar when the spotlight focuses on cervical cancer prevention. The Public Health Agency (PHA) is using the opportunity to encourage women to attend when called for their cervical screening appointment and not to put it off. Each year around 90 women in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 20 women die from the disease. The PHA coordinates the Northern Ireland Cervical Screening Programme in Northern Ireland and is taking this opportunity to emphasise the importance of going for a smear test when invited. This is particularly important for women who have never had a smear before or where it has been more than 5 years since their last test. Dr Tracy Owen, Consultant in Public Health Medicine for the PHA, said: “Women are first called for cervical cancer screening at 20 years of age and after their first smear test, they are invited every three to five years for routine screening until aged 64. A smear test is done to check the health of the cervix. Regular smear tests therefore pick up any changes early – before they develop into cervical cancer and at a stage when they can be treated more easily.” Figures for 2008–2009 show that younger women are much less likely to attend for cervical screening. While 79% of women aged 40-44 years have had a smear test in the last 5 years, only 67% of women aged 25-29 years have had one.¹ The screening programme plays a vital role in saving lives as it is estimated that in a well-screened population, four out of five cervical cancers can be prevented. Dr Owen continued: “This is one of the few cancers that is preventable as pre-cancerous cell changes can be picked up before they have a chance to develop. If cell changes are left undetected and untreated they could go on to develop into cervical cancer. That’s why it is so important that women go for regular check-ups. I would encourage all women to attend their appointment - it could literally save their life.” For further information on this issue please visit

Further information

For more information contact PHA Press Office, Ormeau Avenue Unit, on 028 9031 1611.

Notes to the editor

Cervical Cancer Awareness Week runs during 18–24 January and European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week runs during 25–31 January this year. ¹ Public Health Agency, Quality Assurance Reference Centre. Cervical Screening KC-53 Korner return 2008-09 (Northern Ireland).