February 20, 2009
Statistics released by health boards in Northern Ireland show that almost one woman in four has not had a Pap test in the past five years. The need for such screening is receiving additional attention due to the plight of Jade Goody, a star of the reality program "Big Brother," who learned in August she has cervical cancer and is now near death.
Statistics indicate that 121,004 women who were eligible last year did not present for a Pap test. This figure is down slightly from the number of women who neglected to take the test in 2007 -- 123,022 -- and 2006 -- 123,787.
"Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, and a program to vaccinate teenage girls against this virus was introduced in September 2008," said Dr. Tracy Owen, regional quality assurance director for cervical screening.
"In the future, we hope that this vaccine will result in even fewer cases of cervical cancer, but in the meantime, the best way any woman can reduce her risk of developing cervical cancer is to attend for regular smear tests," Owen said. "In Northern Ireland, women aged 20 to 64 years are currently invited for screening every three to five years. In 2008, only 74 percent of women in this age group had had a smear test in the last five years."
Owen added that women who are overdue for a Pap test need not wait to receive a reminder: "They can go along to their [general practitioner] or family planning clinic at any time and request a smear,"she said.